Natural Sightings #595 – Tarantula Hawk.jpg

Tarantula Hawksare the largest wasps in North America.

Joanne Beckett took this photo in her front yard in the city of Tehachapi of a Tarantula Hawk as it was nectar-feeding on some Narrow-leafed Milkweed (Asclepias fascicularis).

Joanne explains: “I have a Milkweed Garden (otherwise known as a Weed Garden) in my front yard. It’s been fun to keep them growing and watching all the insects that feed on the flowers, some white and some pink! To my surprise, the other day this Tarantula Hawk Wasp (actually two of them) appeared and stayed all day just feeding.”

Tarantula Hawks (Pepsis sp.) are the largest wasps in North America, and their sting is considered one of the most painful and debilitating in the natural world. They use their formidable venom to paralyze a tarantula, which they then drag or carry off and place in a burrow to serve as a living meal for their larvae.

Typically of wasps and bees, the males possess neither stinger nor venom, and are harmless. They can be identified by their straight antennae. Females are the ones that possess the fearsome sting, and they have curly antennae. The one in this photo is a male.

Despite the threat that they pose to tarantulas, these enormous wasps are not aggressive and few humans have ever been stung by one. The adults themselves don’t eat tarantulas, or any arthropods for that matter, but are nectarvores that feed on flowering plants.

The Nuwa (Kawaiisu or Paiute) word for wasp is watsavi, pronounced watt-SAV-eh. A trick to remember this is the reaction someone would have if they felt one land on them: “What’s on me?” (watsavi).

NATURAL SIGHTINGS is a regular feature of the Tehachapi News edited by Jon Hammond which showcases photos of the natural beauty that enhances the quality of life in Tehachapi. If you have a good quality image of plants, animals, insects, trees, birds, weather phenomena, etc., taken in the Tehachapi area, you may submit it to the Tehachapi News for possible publication. Submissions can be dropped by the News office in the form of a print or CD, or sent by email to:

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