In a hypothetical fight between bullet ant vs. tarantula hawk, who do you think will win? We study this fun question on various objective parameters to come to a conclusion in our blog below.
Bullet ants are also known as ’24-hour ants’ because they deliver an extremely painful sting that lasts up to 24 hours.
On the other hand, tarantula hawks are parasitoid wasps who can prey on spiders twice their size and enslave them to feed their larvae.
Both are known for being neck and neck in the Schmidt sting pain index, a comparative scale of how painful the stings of various insects are, designed by the entomologist Justin Schmidt.
So, who would win in a fight to the death between these two fearsome fighters of the wild? Let’s try to answer this question with all the available information we have on these two insects.
How Big Are They?
It is important to know how big each of them is to decide which one is the most fierce among the two.
Both bullet ants and tarantula hawks are bigger in size as compared to other insects of their genus, but tarantula hawks are larger than bullet ants.
But the sting of a bullet ant lasts much longer than the sting of a tarantula hawk.
Bullet Ants (Paraponera clavata)
Bullet ants can measure up to 0.7 to 1.2 inches in length. They are reddish-black in color and have large and strong mandibles.
Along with these pincers, they also have a visibly strong stinger that induces the most painful bites known to humans.
It is so painful that scientists have compared it to being shot with a bullet (which is where the name comes from). Like all other colony-forming insects, the queen of the bullet ant colony is slightly larger than the rest of the ants.
Tarantula Hawk (Pepsis Genus)
Tarantula hawk wasps are larger than bullet ants and can measure up to 2 inches in length.
They are black-bodied insects with rusty orange or bright orange wings. Some species, such as the P. Grossa, have a metallic blue luster.
Moreover, they have long legs that help them to run very quickly on the ground.
You can distinguish between a male and female tarantula hawk through their antennae. Males have straight antennae, while females have curled ones.
Where Do They Live?
The two large arthropods, tarantula hawks and bullet ants, are mostly found in South America and Central America.
Bullet ant colonies abound in the tropical rainforests of America. Tarantula wasps are spread across grasslands, shrublands, and deserts worldwide.
Bullet ants inhabit the neotropical rainforests of South America and Central America.
In the tropical belt, you can find many colonies of bullet ants in the rainforests of Columbia, Brazil, Honduras, Peru, Costa Rica, Venezuela, Ecuador, and many other countries.
Bullet ants build their nests at the base of the trees, and each colony might contain hundreds of bullet ants.
You can find Tarantula hawk wasps across the world.
Dense populations of tarantula hawks exist in Africa, America, the Indian subcontinent, and many other continents except Antarctica and Europe.
In the United States, tarantula hawks live in the deserts of the Southwestern states such as Texas, Colorado, and Utah.
Apart from deserts, they also inhabit scrublands and grasslands.
Whose Bite/Sting is More Painful?
Both insects are fierce biters, and insect enthusiasts have often tried to compare their bites.
While the immediate aftermath of a tarantula hawk bite is perhaps more painful, the bullet ants sting leaves a brilliant pain that remains with you for much longer.
As an aside, all insects of the order Hymenoptera (which includes bees, wasps, ants, sawflies, etc.) are venomous.
Thankfully, neither bullet ants nor tarantula hawks are known to be aggressive towards humans.
Bullet ants are mostly non-aggressive, but if you provoke them, you can end up with the most painful sting a human can ever have.
Bullets ants sting is the most painful sting in the world as per the Schmidt Sting Pain Index. It got a rating of four on four.
The worst part about bullet Ant sting is that the pain lasts for up to 24 hours! Schmidt described the pain level as similar to walking over lit charcoal with a nail in your foot.
Here’s a video that might somewhat help you understand the intense pain that they cause.
Tarantula hawks are not aggressive. But if you try to handle them, you could provoke them to sting you. Their sting contains enough venom to paralyze tarantulas.
On the Schmidt sting pain index, their sting is also rated as a four out of four, indicating the worst possible pain.
Schmidt colorfully described it as getting electrocuted when taking a bubble bath!
Fortunately, the pain lasts less than 5 minutes, and the sting causes no significant damage to your skin.
Who is More Aggressive?
Bullet ants live in colonies and might develop defensive behavioral characteristics to protect their colony mates. But by nature, they are mostly non-aggressive.
They might only sting you if you try to handle or provoke them.
Make sure to keep away from logs of wood and don’t touch saplings in forested areas in bullet ant country because they might get intimidated and sting back.
Tarantula hawks are solitary wasps that do not live in colonies, and hence they are not aggressive by nature.
Like bullet ants, they would sting you only if they feel threatened. Their sting is as painful as bullet ants but does not last as long.
What Are They Predators Of?
Who will win in a fight is also a factor of who is braver and more powerful. By understanding which insects these two prey on, we can determine what kind of insects they can attack and kill.
As the name suggests, Tarantula hawks are predators of Tarantula spiders. Adults usually feed on flower nectar and small insects such as aphids.
Bullet ants also prey on smaller insects, and adults mainly feed on flower nectar. But they can lift food hundreds of times their size, so they are very powerful insects.
Bullet ants mainly feed on the nectar of flowers and prey on small insects.
However, like all ants, bullet ants are powerful and can lift weights up to hundreds of times their own.
As an aside, many insects, such as glass wing butterflies, have adapted themselves to produce bitter-tasting eggs to avoid them from getting eaten.
Tarantula hawks are part of a larger family of spider wasps, each of whom is a parasitoid and uses one type of spider for laying their eggs and feeding the larvae.
As the name suggests, tarantula hawks have chosen tarantulas.
And this is a bold choice because tarantulas can be almost twice the size of this wasp. Tarantulas can measure up to 5 inches in length.
How Do They Hunt?
Both the arthropods hunt using their strong stingers. While tarantulas wasps target tarantulas, the bullet ants use them on smaller insects.
Bullet ants hunt small arthropods by stinging them, which releases a venom that paralyzes these small insects.
A sting from one bullet ant attracts other ants to come and attack the prey, because it releases many chemicals and pheromones.
As a result, more ants keep coming and stinging the prey repeatedly. This strategy is useful if the prey is larger or there is a predator that is threatening their colony.
Once done, they tear the prey into pieces using their sharp mandibles and carry it back piece by piece into their colony for feeding.
To hunt spiders double their size, tarantula hawk wasps use a special technique. The female wasp lies on the ground, pointing its stinger upwards towards its target spider.
It then stings the tarantula in the lower abdomen region, injecting its venom. The sting paralyzes the spider making it incapable of movement.
It then drags the spider into her nest and lays a single egg on the spider’s abdomen. When the egg hatches, the spider is still paralyzed, waiting to be eaten alive.
Who Will Win in a Fight?
Tarantula hawk wasps are predators of tarantulas, while bullet ants either prey on small insects but are colony insects and can be quite aggressive.
But neither of the two are predators of each other. However, if we were to think of a hypothetical scenario, tarantula hawks might win in a solo fight.
Tarantula hawk wasps are larger, with longer legs and stingers. Moreover, they can fly to avoid the bite of the ant. So, in a solo fight, hawk wasps might be an advantage.
But once a bullet ant attacks, it attracts other nearby bullet sets to sting, so bullet ants will kill hawk wasps and win the fight in a team game.
Frequently Asked Questions
What animal kills tarantula hawks?
Tarantula hawks’ stings are excruciatingly painful, and therefore, they have a very small number of predators.
The only predators who dare to eat them are roadrunners and bullfrogs. They can tolerate such pain (roadrunners can pick one up and kill it before it even has a chance to sting) and kill tarantula hawks to feed on them.
What is the most painful animal on earth?
The bullet ant sting delivers a pain that is unbearable and lasts for 24 hours. Their stings are on the top of the painful stinging insects’ list. It scores the highest of four out of four on the Schmidt sting pain index scale.
What are the top 10 painful stings?
Bullet ants, tarantula hawks, paper wasps, the eastern yellow jacket, bald-faced hornet, warrior wasp, carpenter bee, red harvester ant, trap-jaw ant, and bulldog ant have the most painful stings in the world. The Schmidt pain index ranges from 2 to 4 for all these insects.
Which bee has the worst sting?
The worst of all bee stings is the sting of a giant Borneo carpenter bee. But amongst hymenopterans, its sting is not that high.
Per the Schmidt sting pain index, this pain is a 2 out of 4, while tarantula hawks and bullet ants have stingers that induce a pain rated as four out of four.
You can tolerate a tarantula hawk sting as the pain would not last for more than 5 minutes.
But you can not live with the same pain for 24 hours.
So, the bullet ant sting remains the deadliest even if the Schmidt sting pain index of both the insects’ stings is the highest.
In a fight to the death, the wasp’s size and its ability to fly might help it win, but if the bullet ants start to attack in a swarm, the poor solitary wasp will have no other recourse but to run away.
We hope you enjoyed the read! Thank you for reading till the end.
Comparisons like these can be very interesting and have been made more so by some YouTubers who have taken the act of getting stung and made it into a profession!
However, read through some of the live experiences of our own readers who have faced the sting of these mighty biters.
Letter 1 – Tarantula Hawk
I want to compliment you on a great site. Attached i sent you a pic, a little blurry sadly, of one big bug that i found near Cancun, Quintana Roo, Mexico. The insect was big around 10cm or between three and four inches. It could fly and the people there (the Ak tunche cave) told me it was a wasp, but I have not been able to find any information on the web. I would really appreciate your help and thanks in advance.
Your wasp is a Tarantula Hawk. The female wasp picks a fight with a tarantula, and if she wins, she stings it, paralyzes it, lays an egg on it and buries it. When the egg hatches, the young larval wasp has a nice supply of fresh meat because it eats the paralyzed tarantual alive. She will sting you painfully if you don’t respect her.
Letter 2 – Tarantula Hawk
Is this a Tarantula Hawk
I have seen this Giant wasp ouside my house (In Southern Orange County) a few times now. I need to know if it is a danger to my 2 year old son as he loves to play out on our patio. I took a picture of the statue with a C sized battery so you can get an accurate size description as I tend to over exaggerate things a bit.
It sure does look like a Tarantula Hawk, but the photo is too far away to be certain. Tarantula Hawks have black bodies and reddish-orange wings. Females are not aggressive, but will sting painfully if provoked.
Letter 3 – Tarantula Hawk?
Over the last weekend, we were in Parker, Arizona. A large bug landed on me which was very frightening. People there identified it as a ‘scorpion wasp’, but I can’t find any such bug on the internet. I don’t have a photo, but it had a large black body with some white or gray spots on the head, long legs, and a very long stinger (or what appeared to be so). It had large wings. Do you know of any such bug in this area? I’m concerned that if we visit there again, I don’t want my baby to be stung by this thing, if it was a wasp after all. I did notice too, that when it landed on the ground , it crawled around rather quickly.
Dear Mrs Trebesch,
Might be a Tarantula Hawk, a very large wasp with reddish wings. They sting and paralyze tarantulas. Their sting is reported to be very painful to humans.
I did some more searching online yesterday after your previous message; despite the fact that I thought I saw black and white, I am certain it had orange wings and appeared black when flying/crawling and after review of some photos, I don’t have much doubt that it was a tarantula hawk wasp. The strange thing is, I thought it had stung me, but from the descriptions, it sounds like if it had, I wouldn’t be questioning! It didn’t hurt that much… maybe he/she just landed on my sunburn and made me think I got stung! Thanks for your help in identifying it!
Sierra Vista Middle School
Dear Mrs. Trebesch,
Though I have never been stung, I understand the sting of a Tarantula Hawk is extremely painful. I see big ones her in Los Angeles occasionally, but never as large as the ones I have seen in Mexico. They are actually beautiful wasps. Glad we could solve your mystery. We found a photo on this site.
Letter 4 – Tarantula Hawk
Red bug with blue wings
Is this site still active? I have a bug to identify. Can you help?
Since your note is so short, we are going to playfully hassle you. First, the internet must have scrambled your image, because the photo that arrived is of a blue bug with red wings, not the inverse you claim. This is an excellent example of why we hate to base identifications on verbal descriptions alone. Even more importantly, you provided us with no location information. Are you in Namibia? Buenos Aires? or Phoenix? We are relatively certain this is a Tarantula Hawk and that you are writing from an arid region in the SW US. If you are from elsewhere, it might be another species of Spider Wasp in the family Pompilidae. In answer to your first question, “yes, we are still active and as ornery as ever.” Your photo is beautiful.
Blue bug with RED wings
Hey — real people (person?) answering my e-mail! How wonderful — and how unusual… I have to apologize for the short note — I was running out the door on my way to work after just composing a nice long explanatory message and shooting it off to you — and my computer locked up in the middle of the “send” routine! So it didn’t go — and what you got (which I assumed had not gone either, but must have gone when the computer unfroze after I left home) was the earlier beginning of the longer message which had been saved in the outbox somehow. Don’t we love technology??? NO. But I was so thrilled that you answered even my aborted message with such a friendly response that you may find me sending all kinds of bug pictures for you to help me learn about! You were right — this was taken in the Southern California foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains, east of Los Angeles by about 30 miles. I am cataloguing flowers in these hills for a conservancy that is trying desperately to raise $12,000,000 to buy a piece of property to keep it away from developers. I know a lot about the flowers, less about the bugs. But I’m learning! (check our website: www.savejohnsonspasture.org — most if the images there are mine.) The Tarantula Wasp is not going to lack for a place to lay eggs this year — lots of tarantulas around too. One evening I counted 6 all at once within a 10 foot stretch of roadway — looked like they were racing each other across it! Anyway, thanks for the ID, and for the friendly response.
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