Tarantula Hawk Wasp is one of the largest known spider wasps. The Tarantula Hawk wasp nest is a special burrow in the ground to trap paralyzed spiders and tarantulas and lay their egg sac on them.
If you have never heard about the tarantula hawk, you might be confused about whether it is a majestic flying bird or a giant spider. It is neither – this is a species of spider wasps.
These are perhaps one of the biggest and only threats to Tarantula spiders in the world. One of the largest types of wasps, tarantula hawks, are found on all continents except the Antarctic.
These wasps have metallic dark blue, iridescent bodies, bright orange wings, and six long legs. Their legs have claws at their end to carry their prey.
They are known worldwide for their excruciatingly powerful sting.
Classified as one of the biggest Hymenoptera orders of the Insecta class, the Tarantula wasps belong to the Pepsini tribe of the Pompilidae family.
Interestingly the adult female tarantula hawks can live up to 4 to 5 months while the male ones only live for a few weeks.
The females spend this time mating, then creating nests, preying on tarantulas to lay their eggs, and then leaving them in their nests to let the larvae hatch.
What Do Tarantula Hawk Nests Look Like?
The tarantula hawk nest looks like a small 2-inch hole in the ground when seen from the top, but it is much more than that when you investigate beneath the soil.
However, before knowing about its nest, it is crucial to understand why they create them in the first place.
What Do Tarantula Hawks Need Nests For?
Adult tarantula hawks are solitary insects, so they don’t have a colony to feed on and nest. So why do they build nests at all?
These wasps are parasitoids in their larval stage. They not only live on the host tarantulas, but they also feed on them.
Adult tarantula wasps hunt and paralyze tarantulas but don’t kill or eat them. Once the tarantulas are immobilized, the wasps drag them into their nest.
They then lay their egg sacs on them rather than feeding them. Once the egg hatches in 3 to 5 days, the larva eats the still-alive spider to grow.
So, coming back to the main question, these wasps create their nests for three purposes:
- To trap the tarantulas along with their larvae, making it easy for their young to feed.
- To keep their larvae safe from predators:
- To provide them a safe space where they could pupate and overwinter, coming out as adult wasps in the summer and spring.
What Do The Nests Look Like?
Tarantula hawks might make their own nests or else repurpose the existing nest of rodents or other digger wasps. Natural rock crevices are also a viable choice.
In either case, the opening of these nests is one to two inches in the ground.
These wasps can grow anywhere between one and a half to two inches in size, so that is why the nest hole is not much bigger than this.
They dig about 11 inches inside the ground and then branch out the nest into several smaller chambers. These chambers are each meant for one egg and the tarantula it is laid on.
Sometimes, two female wasps might share the same nest. However, the chambers are always unique and only meant for a single egg.
Once the nest is done, the female wasp performs a small dance, hopping around the burrow to identify all of its contours so that she can find it again later on.
Here’s a video explaining the whole process.
Filling Up The Nest
After this, she starts scouting for tarantulas to lay her eggs. Each spider is the host for only one egg.
They meticulously drag each spider into their nest, lay their egg, and then go out searching for another one until all the eggs are laid.
Each time she brings a new spider, the female wasp piles some loose debris or soil on the burrow’s opening to cover it and hide it from predators.
When she comes the next time, she first goes and checks her nest before carrying the new spider inside.
How To Get Rid of Tarantula Hawk Nests
Though the tarantula wasps rarely attack humans, it is better to be safe than sorry.
Wear thick fabric clothing with gloves, face shields, and mufflers are a must alongside traditional hunting tools.
Moreover, the wasps are inactive and often in their nest at night, making it the ideal time to launch the attack.
While crushing them using metallic poles and tools may seem easy, it can only work if the egg has not hatched and the wasp is alone. Hence, it is best to use a more effective way to be safer.
Carbaryl-based insecticide powders are the most effective choices to kill Hawk wasps.
Put a little water around the nest to make the soil slightly moist. Next, pour the insecticide dust copiously all around the area.
Ensure that the soil is pressed down and seals the burrows. This will prevent the wasps from flying away before the insecticide begins to affect them.
To be sure, a little fuel can be added in and around the burrow and ignited immediately. The fume knocks the wasps unconscious, thus preventing them from escaping before it’s too late.
Dusting Resmethrin directly on the nests
Commonly used by professional pesticide applicators, this water-insoluble pesticide is very effective in destroying hanging nests of Hawk wasps found in crevices and hollowed-out spaces.
Resmethrin has a very distinctive chrysanthemum flower-like odor, which attracts the nectar-seeking wasps.
This pesticide effectively kills the wasp, the egg sac, and the larva In a day or two’s time.
You can use a DIY trap by cutting out a soda bottle and filling it with a small quantity of lime soda and dish soap in it.
The sugary scent of the soda draws the wasps to the bottle while the thick dish soap traps and kills them.
Using natural predators to hunt the wasps
Roadrunners and bullfrogs are the rare predators that can effectively kill Tarantula wasps. However, as we mentioned earlier, both are hard to find.
Preventing Tarantula Hawk Wasps from breeding
Prevention is better than cure, so follow these steps to make sure that
- Check clearings and bald patches for burrows during landscaping.
- Plant grass on such bald patches so that they don’t make their nests.
- Repair leaking faucets and pipes outdoors to prevent the breeding of spiders. Spiders like moist and dingy areas, and their presence attracts these wasps.
Frequently Asked Questions
Where do Tarantula hawk wasps nest
Tarantula hawks are known for creating burrows in the ground or hanging burrows in crevices and creeks as nests.
These nests have a one to two-inch opening, and the wasp often covers them with loose soil or debris. They prefer patches of soil that is sandy and do not have vegetation on it.
However, it is not uncommon to see these predatory wasps capture and occupy burrows of other insects and spiders.
How do you get rid of a tarantula hawk wasp?
Tarantula hawks are solitary wasps that can be killed manually using swatting tools. If you have their natural predators like bullfrogs and roadrunner birds around, they might also do the job.
To finish off the nests and the larva or egg sac, you can use various carbaryl-based insecticide powders or Resmethrin dust.
Where does a tarantula hawk lay its eggs?
Tarantula hawks are parasitoid wasps. They hunt and paralyze giant meaty spiders such as tarantulas to lays their egg sac on them.
The spider then leaves it inside her nest for a few days until the eggs hatch and begin to feed on the still-alive spider.
Are Tarantula hawk wasps poisonous?
Tarantula hawks have venomous stingers that can cause excruciating pain. The venom contains alpha and beta pompildotoxins.
However, there is no evidence that the wasp’s body has any surface irritants or poisons, nor are they known to have any organs to bite.
Even though tarantula hawks are an effective predator for spiders in your garden, having their nest around can be hazardous. If disturbed, they can deliver an excruciatingly painful sting.
While the pain can be manageable for adults, it can be very agonizing for children and pets. Hence, please use the methods we shared above to remove their nests from your yard or garden.
Thank you for reading!
Over the years, many of our readers have sent us pictures and emails of tarantula hawk wasp nests in and around their homes, requesting us to identify the insect. Please go through some of them below.
Letter 1 – Tarantula Hawk
Subject: what bug is this Location: San Diego, California May 28, 2014 9:19 am While walking to my car yesterday I came across this huge black bug that had a body like an ant with long legs and mulitcolored wings. It was about 2 1/2 to 3 inches long. It moved VERY fast on the ground and then at one point flew away. What is this??? Signature: Freaked Out In San Diego Dear Freaked Out In San Diego, This impressive wasp is commonly called a Tarantula Hawk. Here are some images from our archives of a Tarantula Hawk hunting with its prey. The sting of a Tarantula Hawk is reported to be quite painful.
Letter 2 – Tarantula Hawk
Subject: What’s this bug Location: California August 3, 2014 12:18 pm Located this one in Vacaville ca Signature: Ma Dear Ma, You have encountered a Tarantula Hawk, a member of several possible genera of Spider Wasps that prey upon Tarantulas, not to eat, but to provide food for the larval wasps. Tarantula Hawks are not aggressive, but they are reported to have a very painful sting.
Letter 3 – Tarantula Hawk
Subject: Another Tarantula Hawk Location: Van Nuys, CA May 4, 2015 6:05 pm I wrote a couple weeks ago and you helped me identify a Tarantula Hawk I had found on my street. I had no photos at the time. So heres a funny story for you (and a photo): I was visiting friends who live 17 miles away from me and I was telling them about my encounter with the Tarantula Hawk, describing in detail everything from the size to the colors, to how painful supposedly the sting supposedly is. When my friends starting pointing at me and then yelled “it’s right behind you” I of course didn’t believe them. I thought they were paranoid, it was too much like a bad movie. But turned around and yes there it was. We managed to capture and take a photo. We soon found another one, larger wings, seemed more energetic (this one in the photo wasn’t very fast). The white glare on the photo is the glass. This is the first TH spotting that my friends have encountered at this residence and they had never heard of it before. How common are these? I’ve managed to run across 3 in as many weeks now. Signature: Ragga Dear Ragga, Your account of conjuring up a Tarantula Hawk from the ether through words is very amusing. We have never encountered a Tarantula Hawk in Mount Washington, but we have encountered individuals in the Los Angeles River and at Barnsdell Park in Los Angeles. Most of our sightings have occurred in arid areas outside of the city, and it is our speculation that populations of Tarantula Hawks within urban Los Angeles have dwindled with the loss of critical habitat and the scarcity of a food supply in the form of both Tarantulas and Trapdoor Spiders.
Letter 4 – Tarantula Hawk
Subject: Fifteen years in Sd first time seeing this! Location: San Diego June 3, 2015 7:19 pm Found this rad insect crawling around the ground in my backyard in san diego ca. Any idea? Signature: Ink only. Dear Ink Only, This is a Tarantula Hawk. Unless you are extremely fond of intense pain, like what might result from multiple stabbings with an inking needle, you should handle this Tarantula Hawk with caution as they are reported to have one of the most painful insect stings known to man. Their venom is strong enough to paralyze a Tarantula. We will be postdating your submission to go live on our site while we are away from the office in June.
Letter 5 – Tarantula Hawk
Subject: I should know this, but don’t. Location: Southern California September 18, 2016 5:38 pm Coaching tennis on a 90 degree Southern California day and this guy was extremely big and rambunctious. Haven’t seen one this big and this color. I should know this. Any help would be great and I can tell my team exactly what it was cuz we were all wondering. Thanks. Signature: To Jay Miles Dear Jay, While we are unable to provide you with an exact species identification, we are quite certain this Spider Wasp is one of the Tarantula Hawks in either the genus Pepsis or the genus Hemipepsis. Female Tarantula Hawks hunt Tarantulas and Trapdoor Spiders, and then sting them to paralyze them. They then drag them to a burrow and bury the paralyzed spider after laying an egg. The hatchling Tarantula Hawk will eat the spider alive, avoiding the vital organs, so the food will stay fresh and not dry out as would happen with a dead spider.
Letter 6 – Tarantula Hawk
Subject: Lg flying bug orange iridescent wings San Diego Location: San Diego County September 28, 2016 7:43 pm Today I was atop a huge 20ft Boulder at the summit of 3600ft in San Diego County. This flying insect (seemed like a small humming bird) launched several assaults from hundreds of feet away at me, never really close. Displayed quite the acrobatic maneuvers. What is it? Signature: Buzzed by big ufo Dear Buzzed by big ufo, Though your image lacks clarity, this Tarantula Hawk in unmistakable. Tarantula Hawks are large Spider Wasps that generally have black bodies with bright orange wings. Though they are not aggressive toward humans, they are reported to have an extremely painful sting. Female Tarantula Hawks hunt Tarantulas, stinging them to paralyze, but not kill them. The paralyzed Tarantula is then dragged back to an underground burrow where it is buried after the Tarantula Hawk lays an egg. When the egg hatches, the larval wasp feeds on the still living, but paralyzed Tarantula that acts as a source of fresh (not dried out) food. Daniel, I’ve attached additional photos. Also, this was aggressive to show its displeasure, although I was 50-100ft from its origin, but it may be due to my wearing a bright orange shirt… Thanks, Thanks so much. This one does have a much larger body than most. —Jim
Letter 7 – Tarantula Hawk
Subject: This lives my desert milkweed Geographic location of the bug: Phoenix AZ urban environment Date: 08/14/2021 Time: 10:42 PM EDT Your letter to the bugman: Can you tell us what this beautiful insect is. It has beautiful iridescence on its thorax and abdomen that do not show as clearly in the photo. It is approximately 2.5 inches long with long graceful legs and long wings. How you want your letter signed: Thank you! Deborah Dear Deborah, First we want to compliment you on your wonderful image that is so rich in anatomical details, including the two spines visible on the hind leg joint. This is a Tarantula Hawk and many Tarantula Hawks have bright orange wings and iridescent bodies, aposomatic or warning colors that this wasp can sting and the sting is reported to be quite painful. At first we suspected it was a Mexican Tarantula Hawk because of the black wings, but the large size you indicate has us thinking this is the melanic form of Pepsis grossa based on this BugGuide information: “Very large, with two color forms: Orange-winged (xanthic) and black-winged (melanic). The two color forms are not often seen in the same locality. Melanic forms are easily confused with Pepsis mexicana, but that species is always much smaller in size than P. grossa.” When Tarantula Hawks fly, their long legs dangle behind them. Though they are not aggressive, the sting is reported to be extremely painful. True to their name, female Tarantula Hawks prey upon Tarantulas which they paralyze with their sting. The living but helpless Tarantula is then buried and the Tarantula Hawk lays an egg. When the egg hatches, the larva will eat the Tarantula alive. This is important because if the Tarantula was dead, it would dry up and be useless as food for the larval wasp. Tarantula Hawks are very fond of milkweed. Thanks again for your wonderful submission.