Tarantula hawks can prey on spiders twice their size, but are their animals or insects that can prey on them too? What eats tarantula hawks in the wild? Let’s find out.
One of the largest and most frightening wasps in the world, Tarantula Hawks are vicious predators of tarantulas twice their size.
These wasps have developed a lot of fascinating defense mechanisms that enable them to be almost predator free. However, there are a few exceptions that do eat them.
Let us talk about these defenses and the few predators that are able to beat them.
Why Are There So Few Predators of Tarantula Hawks?
In line with nature’s law, any living being will try to avoid getting eaten by a potential predator, especially something bigger in size.
Thus, these spider wasps have also developed defense mechanisms.
The size of tarantula hawks and their terrifyingly painful sting are major reasons why they have few predators.
They are also great at communicating to their attacker that they are risky, a phenomenon known as aposematic communication.
Use of Color
Colors are one of the various forms of signals that tarantula hawks use to ward off predators.
Adult tarantula hawk wasps use bright color patterns like red-yellow-orange on their wings to warn their predators. This is called aposematism and is visible in many insects.
It is a message to the predators to stay away from a bad fight. They can see the color from a long distance and choose not to engage.
Tarantula hawks act out jerky movements, somewhat like dancing bees, flicking their wings when they are in the air.
These movements help predators know that they are around, and the color lets them know that they are dangerous.
This is a way for larger predators to avoid hurting them by mistake.
Tarantula hawks are also capable of communicating through sounds. They use their wings to make a strong buzzing sound at a high pitch.
These sounds let predators in the vicinity know that a big wasp is nearby and can put up a good fight.
One of the final warning signs for tarantula hawks is their ability to emit a specific odor.
The wasps release small amounts of chemicals that spread over a long distance and can be picked up by animals with a strong sense of smell.
Unlike humans, most potential wasp predators have a strong olfactory sense and will be able to know where the tarantula hawks are.
If you have been unfortunate enough to have been stung by a tarantula wasp, you have endured one of the worst insect bites of nature.
Female tarantula hawk sting contains a lot of venom that causes immediate and blinding pain. This is the same venom that paralyzes tarantulas.
The wasps also use their sting as a defense mechanism. But the effect of the venom differs for each victim.
On mice, the venom of the common species of tarantula hawk has lethal levels, but for larger vertebrates, it only causes pain.
The female wasps use their sting as the last resort of protection from their predators.
With all of the above ways to prevent themselves from getting into fights, tarantula hawks live life almost predator free.
What Are the Natural Predators of Tarantula Hawks?
Roadrunners and bullfrogs are the two predators who dare to attack tarantula hawks despite all their defense mechanisms.
So if you are trying to get rid of these wasps, introducing bullfrogs in your surroundings could be a plan.
Unfortunately, bullfrogs are usually found around water, near ponds with a lot of vegetation.
They do not go into dry or desert areas where tarantula wasps are found. These wasps are most common in South America, even though they are found in the United States in Texas and Utah.
Bullfrogs can attack the wasp with their large tongues, often swallowing them whole.
Roadrunners are aggressive in nature, so they can catch these wasps with one swift motion without getting stung.
Kingbirds are also one predator that can catch tarantula wasps.
Robber Fly Mimics Tarantula Hawks To Avoid Predators
Creatures mimicking more powerful ones for protection is a common phenomenon in nature.
With the tarantula hawk being so successful at avoiding predators, it is natural that it invites such mimicry.
One insect that uses the characteristics of tarantula hawks is Wyliea mydas, more commonly known as the Robber fly.
Robber flies have bright orange wings, just like tarantula hawks, which are usually the first warning sign for most predators.
But robber fliers can also go one step ahead. The fly has a proboscis but not stingers. However, it deceives its predators by making stinging motions with its genitalia.
Most predators take this stinging motion and bright colors as warning signs and stay out of this fly’s ways.
They might also mistake the fly for tarantula wasps and move on to hunt others.
Frequently Asked Questions
What animal eats tarantula hawks?
The two common predators of tarantula hawks in the wild are bullfrogs and roadrunners.
Due to their large size, there are not too many predators of these wasps.
They are also capable of warning predators using a lot of signs, such as the color of their wings, buzzing sounds, and odors.
Do tarantulas eat tarantula hawks?
Usually, tarantulas are hunted by tarantula hawks and not the other way around. However, for a spider as large as the tarantula, it is easy to anticipate its predators.
Seven times out of ten, the tarantula will know when the wasp is approaching and attack them with their pincers.
The battle is usually pitched in favor of the tarantula hawk, so it is unlikely tarantulas ever get to eat the wasp.
How do you get rid of a tarantula hawk nest?
There are two effective ways to control a tarantula hawk’s nest.
First, you can cover the nest in moist soil or insecticide, blocking its entryways, and then spread insecticide spray around it.
Another idea is to use aerosol insecticides on the nest that will repel the wasps, and they will travel somewhere else to burrow a new nest.
What are tarantula hawks good for?
Tarantula hawks are very beneficial to plants and pollination. They feed on the nectar of flowers, spreading pollen from one plant to another.
These wasps are great pollinators for milkweed and mesquite trees.
Besides, in the wild, these wasps play a necessary part in controlling tarantula populations.
It is true that tarantula hawks do not have many predators out in the wild. They are dangerous because of their size and ability to sting.
But it is also true that if not provoked, these solitary wasps can be gentle giants moving around flowers.
So if you watch your step and look out for the shiny wings, you can easily co-exist with the wasps in your garden.
Thank you for reading!
Sometimes, tarantula’s can win the fight as well, and these wasps might become their food – read the emails below to see for yourself how the hunter becomes the hunted!
Letter 1 – Tarantula Hawk eaten by Prey
I found your web site while trying to identify a wasp. We saw an amazing dance between a large black wasp with orange wings and a tarantula. The tarantula pounced on the wasp and tried to eat it. It does appear to be a tarantula hawk. I’m sure that you will have trouble identifying the wasp from this picture, but it does seem to resemble the tarantula hawk identified on your web site. I thought you might find the attached picture interesting. We are not sure who won this fight. It appears that the tarantula won but it’s hard to say…both bugs were still squirming when we moved on. I wish that I had been able to capture the dance on video, but unfortunately it was over by the time I got a hold of the camera.
Here is proof that if you prey on a predator, you might get eaten.
Letter 2 – Tarantula Hawk
A black, organge, and baby blue bug
Location: Santa Clarita
September 11, 2010 9:07 pm
I found this bug at work. It was a good 3 or 4 inches. The bug was blac, organge and baby blue. I’m not sure if it is a hornet or wasp. Do you know what kind of bug this is?
This stunningly impressive creature is a Tarantula Hawk, one of a group of Spider Wasps that prey upon tarantulas to feed their young. Adults are often found taking nectar from flowers and they are especially fond of Milkweed.
Letter 3 – Procrastination and a Tarantula Hawk image from our archives
Like our good friend Susan Lutz of Eat Sunday Dinner, we find ways to procrastinate. Susan now procrastinates by cooking and developing new recipes, like her Procrastination Spaghetti Sauce, and though we have other commitments, we frequently defer them by turning to all the marvelous email requests that are sent to What’s That Bug? We are supposed to be writing a letter of recommendation for Elizabeth who is applying for a Fulbright Scholar Award, and as the deadline looms upon us, all of the writing to date has been in our mind. We turned to an old computer for some historical records involving Elizabeth, and we realized that a marvelous photo taken by Joshua Stanley and Marnia Johnston of the Tarantula Hawk on Milkweedfrom our archives was there in its high resolution form. The photo predates both the acquisition of our new office computer and the site migration we underwent several years ago. From the current computer and our current WTB? access, only a thumbnail version of this photo was available, and we are now thrilled to republish the image in a higher resolution form. Just click on the photo to see an enlarged version. You can do this with all of the photos that were posted after our site migration.
The reason we are especially interested in having a larger resolution version of this photo available is that we have become very interested in the complex ecosystem surrounding milkweed, and we have recently created a Milkweed Meadow tag. We want to propose a slide presentation and talk to the Theodore Payne Foundation on the insects associated with milkweed, with a concentration of Southern California species that depend upon Esclapias eriocarpa, Indian Milkweed, and other native Milkweeds that can be purchased at the TPF nursery. To bring our procrastination full circle, that is Elizabeth weeding recently in Elyria Canyon Park.
4 thoughts on “What Eats Tarantula Hawks? Explained”
What a shame I can’t be there guys, that Elizabeth is one cute weeder 🙂
Elizabeth is awesome, and we are proud to report that Daniel wrote her an awesome letter of recommendation and submitted it to the Fulbright Program.
In my life i have seen 4 times this very same bug but at least 5 inches one time 6+. No one believes me and I thought it must be some other species.. has anyone else experienced this?
The wingspan of a large Tarantula Hawk might exceed five inches.