Let us understand all about Tarantula Hawk sting pain – how much it would hurt, what you should do, what the symptoms are, and what you can do to relieve the pain.
Tarantula hawks are one of the most feared stinging insects in the world, largely because of the excruciating pain that their sting can inflict on a person.
However, it is important to know more about these creatures before running away from them because, as it turns out, they are rather harmless as long as you leave them alone.
These wasps are non-aggressive and their stings, no matter how painful they may be, are not venomous or lethal to humans.
Read on to know more about a tarantula hawk sting, how much pain it can inflict, and what to do if you ever get stung.
What Are Tarantula Hawks?
Their fearsome reputation often precedes their mention, so it might be good to get a bit of understanding of what this wasp is before running and screaming.
Tarantula Hawks (Pepsis Genus) are part of a species of wasps known as Spider Wasps. They are one of the largest parasitoid wasp species in the world, with lengths of up to 2 inches.
These wasps are found all across Central and Southern America and the southern United States. They are solitary wasps; they don’t build nest colonies.
How To Identify a Tarantula Hawk
Tarantula hawks have bluish-black bodies that stand in stark contrast to their orange or rust-colored wings.
The wings are themselves an indicator to other species that this bug is not to be messed around with. This unique orange or red coloration is known as aposematism, and it informs those around it that this bug is either venomous or has a powerful sting.
Tarantula Hawk Stinger Size
The famous stinger on the tarantula hawk can grow to be as long as 9/32th of an inch. Only the females of the species have stingers; the males don’t have any.
Tarantula Hawks Prey On Tarantulas
If you look closely (which we strongly advise you not to), this wasp has powerful claws on its legs. These claws are meant to hook its prey so that it can carry it a long distance.
The prey is not for the bug itself; it is meant as live food for the larvae of the wasp.
Tarantula hawks can paralyze tarantulas (that’s where the name comes from) and other big spiders with their venom. In fact, they are so good at it that most of the time, the tarantula does not even put up a fight. Don’t believe us? Watch for yourself.
They then carry these arachnids to their nest, lay their egg on them, and leave them as food for the larvae to eat when they hatch.
Are Tarantula Hawks Dangerous?
Despite being considered one of the most painful stingers in the world, it is not very common to observe a tarantula hawk attacking any animal other than its prey.
So are they dangerous? Not really. They are solitary creatures who would like to be left alone most of the time.
Are Tarantula Hawks Aggressive
No, they are actually quite docile unless intentionally provoked. Tarantula hawks don’t have a nesting colony to defend, so they don’t really have anything much to fight for (except their eggs).
As long as other animals and humans leave them alone, they don’t attack anyone.
Are Tarantula Hawks Poisonous
They are venomous, not poisonous. The venom is what enables them to paralyze their prey. The exact chemical composition of a tarantula hawk’s venom is not known.
However, it is clear that the venom itself is not very effective against vertebrates. In fact, their defense against larger vertebrates is the pain of their sting rather than the venom in their bite.
Are Tarantula Hawks Dangerous to Humans?
As we mentioned earlier, tarantula hawks are not dangerous to humans. But that does not mean you should not be careful around them.
Are Tarantula Hawks Aggressive to Humans?
They don’t like to attack humans purposely. They are solitary creatures and spend their time sucking nectar from flowers rather than stinging humans.
However, they can deliver a really painful sting if a human tries to attack or mishandle them.
Do They Attack Humans
No, it is unlikely that a tarantula hawk will attack a human for no reason. However, you can never really be sure what irks these bugs.
While they normally do not gather in swarms, if you find a bunch of them on your property, it is best to get rid of them using a good pest control method.
Do Tarantula Hawks Sting Humans?
Yes, they do. When attacked by a human or on finding one too close, the female tarantula hawk will sting a human. And she delivers such a painful sting that the human will likely get paralyzed at least for a few minutes, simply unable to move.
This is actually the best defense mechanism for these bugs because it lets them flee the spot as their attacker is simply unable to react for some time.
Can a Tarantula Hawk Paralyze a Human?
Permanently, no. But temporarily, yes.
The temporary paralysis is basically a result of the blinding, excruciating pain that follows a tarantula hawk’s sting. It is nearly impossible for humans to react to anything for the next few minutes.
But if the question is whether their venom is powerful enough to paralyze humans and vertebrates like it paralyzes a tarantula, the answer is no. The venom is not potent enough to cause any major damage to humans.
Can a Tarantula Hawk Kill a Human?
No, it is very unlikely that a tarantula hawk will kill humans simply by stinging him, even if the stings occur repeatedly.
The only possible case when this might happen is if the human is allergic to wasp stings and is not offered the right medication in time. We discuss some of the symptoms and medication necessary later in this article.
How Painful Is a Tarantula Hawk Sting
In 2004, American entomologist Justin O. Schmidt shared his research over many decades on getting stung by some of the most vicious stingers and biters on the planet.
He classified each insect’s pain and gave it a description and a rating. This is referred to as the Schmidt Pain Index.
On this objective scale, the Tarantula Hawk pain index has been rated as a 4; the highest an insect can get!
It is the second most vicious insect sting in the world for humans, narrowly edged out by the bullet ant of South America (Paraponera clavata).
The only reason why it is not the number one most painful insect in the world is that the bullet ant’s sting can cause pain for almost an entire day, while the tarantula hawk’s sting will start to feel better in a matter of a few minutes.
Justin Schmidt described the pain in these words: “instantaneous, electrifying and totally debilitating.”
How Bad Is a Tarantula Hawk Sting
It is very difficult to explain a human’s tarantula hawk sting to anyone in words. Getting stung by a tarantula hawk leaves a person breathless and completely incapacitated, nearly writhing in pain for the better part of 5-10 mins.
The best way to explain the reaction is to show you a video of a man getting stung by a tarantula hawk. So watch for yourself:
What Happens if You Get Stung by a Tarantula Hawk
While the pain is excruciating, tarantula hawk wasp stings are not deadly. Typically the pain will subside in 5-10 minutes and leave behind a rash or swelling on the skin, along with redness.
What To Do When Stung by a Tarantula Hawk Wasp?
The best advice on what to do immediately after a sting is just to drop down and let the screaming begin.
The pain is so incapacitating that if you try to find a spot or walk around, you might end up in a ditch or get stuck on barbed wire or something.
Really, there is nothing for you to do except lie down and let the pain subside. It is extremely difficult to keep the normal coordination of your limbs or cognitive control over your senses.
Cases of tarantula hawk sting are rare; such is their reputation. People often run away or find a safe spot the moment they realize what they are facing.
Even in the world of entomology, the few known stings have happened purely by accident, not on purpose.
Tarantula Hawk Sting Effects
While the pain of the tarantula hawk’s sting is quite something else, the after-effects are pretty much the same as any other wasp sting.
You might observe the following symptoms in the person:
- Throbbing pain in the area where the sting happened
- Redness, itching
- Swelling after a few minutes.
These are the usual symptoms. However, a wasp sting can be quite dangerous if the person affected happens to be allergic to insect bites and stings. If such a person should get stung, it is important to take immediate action and call in a medical team.
Don’t wait for the symptoms to show up. These are the symptoms that might be visible in a short while after the sting:
- Increased heart rate or palpitations
- Throat or chest swelling
- Flushed cheeks, redness
- Nausea, vomiting
If the reaction gets more severe, you might observe these symptoms as well:
- Wheezing and difficulty breathing.
- Low blood pressure
- Stomach pain
If the reaction is extremely high, the symptoms could be as dangerous as severe swelling all over the body, heart attack, and inability to breathe.
Please note that these symptoms often show up after some time, but usually within the next hour. It is critical not to wait if a known allergic person has been stung.
Tarantula Hawk Sting Treatment
For normal reactions, it is ok to just wash the area of the bite with warm water and a good antibacterial soap. While it won’t stop the pain, it will reduce the chance of a bacterial infection.
To reduce the pain, ice or a cold compress will give temporary relief. An antihistamine pill or a topical cream like cortisone will reduce the itching and swelling and bring down the level of pain as well.
When applying ice, remember not to apply it directly. Always use a plastic bag, cloth, or some other thing in between. Keep the cold compression on the sting surface for at least 15-20 minutes.
In some cases, applying vinegar to the affected area is also known to help.
For extreme reactions, it is better to head to a medical facility as soon as possible. If the person is severely allergic, they might end up getting an anaphylactic shock from the sting. This could be fatal.
People who are allergic to wasp stings should always carry a sting kit with them, with an adrenaline injection (epinephrine). This will help revive the patient and keep them safe until you reach the hospital.
Now that you know all about a tarantula hawk’s sting and how much pain it can cause, we have some sage advice for you.
If you ever see a wasp in a natural environment, just leave them be. Try to move your location to a safe spot. For example, if you are having a picnic, find another place.
If they are circling around your garden or yard, do not try to engage with them. It is best to call in a pest control expert to solve the problem for you.
It is impossible to identify whether you are seeing a male or a female, especially if you are running away from them. So don’t try to be heroic about it.
Lastly, if you or someone you know has an allergy to wasp stings and insect bites, always carry a sting kit with epinephrine in it. It can be a potential lifesaver. Thank you for reading!
There are many stories about how painful the tarantula hawk’s sting can be that have been shared by our readers in the past. Here are a few of their own experiences.
Letter 1 – Spotted Oleander Caterpillar Moth, not Tarantula Hawk
Tarantula Wasp in Florida? Hello! I was sunbathing near Cape Canaveral on a sunny condominium balcony when I saw this guy on the ceiling above me. At first I thought it was a pretty moth, but it’s features looked too hard. I saw pictures on your site and elsewhere on the internet that make me think this is Tarantula wasp, but in Florida? Everything about Tarantula wasps says these guys live in the arid southwest. Can you tell what bug this is and whether I should be nervous sunbathing with it hanging over my head? Divina Hi Divina This sure looks like a Tarantula Hawk, BUT, according to Bugguide, only Pepsis elegans inhabits the East. Pepsis elegans can have black or orange wings, BUT has orange antennae. Your photo depicts black antennae. Florida is a state notorious for imported insects. There are Tarantula Hawks in the tropics. It is possible strong winds blew this specimen in from elsewhere. Your photo is not the best quality, so it is difficult to say for sure. Correction: December 2, 2008 Looks like a Spotted Oleander Caterpillar Moth, Empyreuma affinis (http://bugguide.net/node/view/ 10160 ) — from a group known as the “Wasp Moths”! Related moths in the genus Horama are even more convincing wasp mimics. Entomology student in Sarasota, Florida
Letter 2 – Tarantula Hawk
Tarantula Hawk I have a pretty good picture of a Tarantula hawk, I believe, according to what I have read on line. My neighbor across the street has a bush that was just loaded with them a couple of weeks ago. They seemed to have left the area lately, (Sept 13th, 2008). I notice most of the pictures were a little blurry etc. I wanted to send you a better photo. See the attachment. Thanks for your column… sure helps out when one is in the dark!! A couple of years ago I sent in a Horse Lubber Grasshopper as no picture was available at that time. Thanks again! Ron Stein Green Valley, AZ (just south of Tucson) Hi Ron, Thanks so much for sending us your wonderful photo of a Tarantula Hawk. As we are currently migrating our site, the image will not be posted live until our migration is complete in the very near future.
Letter 3 – Tarantula Hawk and unidentified Wasps from Joshua Tree National Park
Pepsis colleagues Location: Joshua Tree, CA May 1, 2011 2:02 pm Speaking of tarantula wasps, took this photo in Joshua Tree. What are the smaller pollinators on the same plant? Thanks! Signature: Tracy Dear Tracy, Thanks for supplying us with another image of a magnificent Tarantula Hawk on Milkweed. The other Wasps remind us of Tiphiid Wasps, but we cannot find a match. When we blow up the image to a detail of the smaller pollinators, it is difficult to make out details. We have requested assistance from Eric Eaton. Eric Eaton Responds. Daniel: Wow, those are not familiar to me….Maybe something in the Philanthinae subfamily of Crabronidae (i.e. “beewolves,” “weevil wasps,” etc). No doubt that most, if not all, specimens in the image are males. Send a link to the image and I’ll post it to the Entomo-l listserv (they don’t want you to attach images to e-mails broadcast to the group). Eric Doug Yanega provides a theory Friends: Hoping someone recognizes these. Thank you in advance for the assistance. We just did a Bioblitz at JTNP this weekend, and the only wasps similar to those in the photo were Aphilanthops subfrigidus (see BugGuide). When were those pictures taken? Doug Yanega Dept. of Entomology Entomology Research Museum Univ. of California, Riverside, CA Hi again Tracy. When was this photo taken? Thanks Hi Daniel. It’s an old photo… I’d say circa 2000. Yikes, that’s dated — I hope that doesn’t pose a problem. I pulled it up when I saw the recent tarantula wasp posting. Love your site. It was spring. I remember the Ocotillo blooming. Am guessing March, as June is too hot and Jan/Feb nights there can be really cold.
Letter 4 – Tarantula Hawk
Subject: What is this??? Location: Lake Havasu, Arizona June 15, 2012 4:26 pm Can you please tell me what kind of bug this is? Signature: -Lene Cover Hi Lene, This is a Tarantula Hawk, a large species of Spider Wasp that preys upon Tarantulas to feed its brood. The female is the hunter and only the female stings. Males are perfectly harmless, but females are reported to have one of the most painful stings of any insect. You will be comforted to know that they are not aggressive toward humans, but they should not be handled. We believe this is a male Tarantula Hawk. The females often have curled antennae. There is an entertaining account of Tarantula Hawks on Jack Elliott’s Santa Barbara Adventure. Wow!!! Thank you so much for the reply! I attempted to kill this thing while on vacation in Havasu, AZ but it spooked me when it started trying to fly and I ran away! Even though it is probably a male and harmless, I am sure glad I got away from it. Thank you again for getting back to me, I appreciate it! -Lené Hi again Lené, Please take our advice in this matter. Do not ever try to kill a Tarantula Hawk as it will surely provoke a sting. You don’t want to mess with a Tarantula Hawk. We are not certain this is a male since female Tarantula Hawks can straighten their antennae. It does not appear that this individual has a stinger, a modification of the ovipositor which males do not possess, but we cannot be sure.
Letter 5 – Tarantula Hawk from the Dominican Republic
Subject: please help identify Location: Candelon, NW Dominican Republic March 1, 2014 8:15 am Hi, This bug appeared in my gazebo recently here in the Dominican Republic. There are many types of bugs here but this is the first time I’ve seen this one. It measures approx 2″. Our Haitian boys here tell me it’s dangerous an can kill a horse if bitten, but I think (hope !)that is probably an exaggeration. Body appears like black velvet. It seemed to be grazing on the newly painted concrete floor. Any clue to what it is ? Signature: Alistair Young Dear Alistair, This magnificent Spider Wasp is commonly called a Tarantula Hawk, but we cannot provide the exact species for you. Female Tarantula Hawks hunt for Tarantulas, stinging them to paralyze them. The Tarantula is then buried after the female Tarantula Hawk lays an egg on it. The still living Tarantula provides a source of fresh meat for the developing larval wasp which feeds on the helpless, Tarantula.
Letter 6 – Tarantula Hawk??? In the UK???
Subject: What is this? Location: UK June 4, 2014 10:24 am My friend found it on his lampshade. Ughhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh Signature: Don’t really care. Dear Don’t really care, We thought this resembled a Tarantula Hawk, but we couldn’t figure out why it was sighted in the UK, so we contacted Eric Eaton. His reply is posted below. Can you provide any additional details regarding the sighting? Did your friend recently receive any packages from abroad? Eric Eaton’s Response Definitely a pompilid (spider wasp), and it looks like Hemipepsis or Pepsis. I’d be curious to know the circumstances under which it was found. It is probably a stowaway in a shipment from the southwest U.S. or Central or South America. Eric