Where Do Tarantula Hawks Live? Understanding Their Habitat

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Tarantula hawks are infamous for having the deadliest stings on planet earth. So where do tarantula hawks live? Is it likely for you to find them in your state? Let’s figure it out.

Around 133 known species of tarantula hawks are distributed across the world. However, they are found most commonly in Southern America and Central America. 

They are named after their famous habit of preying on tarantula spiders.

In the United States, these wasps typically inhabit the desert regions of southwestern states like Texas and Arizona. They live in scrublands and desert habitats.

Where Do Tarantula Hawks Live? Helpful Facts

What Are They?

Tarantula hawks are spider wasps that belong to the family Pompilidae. They are named so as they prey on tarantulas and paralyze them for their own benefit.

These wasps measure up to 2 inches in length and are among the largest found on earth. They are black with some highlights of blue and brown colors.

Some species of tarantula hawk have rusty brown wings, while others bear black wings.

They are parasitoid wasps since their larvae live and feed on tarantulas for food. They sting spiders almost double their size, using their fairly big stingers, and making them paralyzed.

Then the wasp carries the spider down their nest so that its larvae can feast on it.

Where Are Tarantula Hawk Wasps Found?

You can encounter Tarantula hawk wasps around the world. Their locations around the globe include southern Asia, Africa, Australia, North America, and South America.

Only two types of tarantula wasps are found in the United States: 18 Pepsis species and 3 Hemipepsis species. They are found in deserts of the southern states in the US.

Out of those, the two most common Pepsis wasps found in the United States include Pepsis Grossa and Pepsis thisbe.

These two wasps are nearly indistinguishable as both have bright orange wings. But P.grossa has a metallic blue body, which is different from others in its family.

Where Do Tarantula Hawks Live? Helpful Facts

What is the Tarantula Hawk Wasp’s Habitat?

The wasps inhabit regions such as scrublands, grasslands, arroyos, and deserts. They are solitary insects and do not form colonies.

Instead, they dig burrows deep into the soil.

Tarantula hawks often skip building their own nests and occupy abandoned nests of other insects, such as the holes made by moles and rabbits.

Adult tarantula hawks mainly hunt around dusk and spend the rest of the day feeding on nectar from flowers, honeydew from aphids, and sometimes smaller insects as well.

Where Do They Build Their Nests?

As mentioned above, tarantula hawk wasps build their nests by digging the soil and burrowing deep inside sandy and soft ground.

The nest of the hawk wasp looks like a small hole in the ground. It has a diameter of around 1 to 2 inches. The size of the neck varies with the size of the wasp.

Female tarantula hawk wasps often inhabit abandoned nests of other animals. They also build their nest in natural cavities created in rocks over time.

Inside the nest, they build several chambers, each being a cell for one of their eggs and the host insect on which they lay their egg.

When the eggs hatch, each one feeds on the paralyzed spider that the female wasp has provided (leaving the vital organs intact till the end) and then digs out to the surface as an adult wasp.

Where Do Tarantula Hawks Live? Helpful Facts

What is the Tarantula Hawk Wasp Range of Flying?

Male wasps can fly hundreds of feet during mating rituals. They run upwards while spiraling and come back down, dive-bombing their competitor. Sometimes, they can do this for hours.

Confused? Let’s explain from the beginning.

Female wasps try to find the biggest spiders to lay eggs on it. This is important because the size of the wasp that grows out depends on the size of the insect it was laid on.

The larger the male wasps, the more potent they are in finding mates.

When the time for mating arrives, females tend to go to the highest available point and invite males to show their aerial skills to decide whom to mate with.

Usually, the males get separated into three classes. The largest males will go to the prime mating spots, such as tree tops, while the smaller ones will remain on the lower branches.

Some mid-sized male wasps tend to live as vagabonds, flying between the low and high territories.

These mid-sized wasps often challenge the bigger ones for mating rights. During these mating showdowns, male wasps get involved in fights.

The wasps don’t wrestle like beetles or other insects; instead, they race and get involved in a competition of aerial displays. This is the display we had talked about earlier.

Where Do Tarantula Hawks Live? Helpful Facts

Frequently Asked Questions

Do tarantula hawks bite humans?

No, they are solitary wasps and don’t have the burden of protecting any colonies from other creatures, so they are not aggressive by nature.
A tarantula hawk biting a human is a very unlikely scenario. It will happen only if the human is trying to disturb them or is causing some other harm.

What happens if you get stung by a tarantula hawk?

Tarantula hawks are not aggressive towards humans and would not sting you unless it feels threatened.
However, in the unfortunate event that you get stung, know that their sting is one of the most painful ones in the world.
It has been rated as the second most painful sting on the Schmidt pain index, and usually, it is so bad that one can do nothing except lie down and scream for three to five minutes.
After a while, the pain subsides, and you might be left with swelling or redness. You can try applying some numbing cream or soothing gel on it.

What states have tarantula hawks?

Tarantula hawks are mainly found in the Southwestern desert regions of the United States and Mexico.
They are found everywhere you can find tarantulas, including states like California, Arizona, and Texas.
They are distributed all over the world but are less or absent in Europe and Antarctica.

What do you do if you see a tarantula hawk?

You can try to get away from that place. Although the chances of it attacking you are rare, it is better not to take a risk.
Make sure not to mishandle or threaten it by any means. A tarantula wasp sting could cause unbearable pain, so keeping tarantula hawks away from your home is better.

Wrap Up

If you search for a tarantula wasp’s location on a map, you will see that they are present across the world except for Antarctica and some parts of Europe.

They build nests mainly by burrowing holes in the ground or occupying natural cavities or abandoned burrows.

In the US, you can find them in all states that have Tarantulas, such as Texas, Arizona, and California.

Thank you for reading.

Authors

  • Bugman

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. whatsthatbug.com is his passion project and it has helped millions of readers identify the bug that has been bugging them for over two decades. You can reach out to him through our Contact Page.

    View all posts
  • Piyushi Dhir

    Piyushi is a nature lover, blogger and traveler at heart. She lives in beautiful Canada with her family. Piyushi is an animal lover and loves to write about all creatures.

    View all posts
Tags: Tarantula Hawks

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3 Comments. Leave new

  • Hi, We have a question on this wasp. There is a Blue Steel Cricket Hunter which is, to my eyes, all but identical to the Mexican Tarantula Wasp and both according to sources can be found in Arizona (where I am). How do we tell them apart? Thank you for your help.

    Reply
  • I live in Cornville, Arizona and while recently hiking (right after monsoon rains) I found a spring that hosted what I thought was a tarantula hawk, but it had blue wings. Perhaps they are in the Verde Valley as well.

    Reply

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