Sunday, May 26, 2013

Tarantula Hawk

We received this "What is this" picture from our friends Bryan and Katy in Denver.  The discovery was made by their beloved baby Darcy.  Katy had already made a tentative ID of a Tarantula Hawk when they sent the email out.

Tarantula- Linda Ellis
Measuring 1.5 inches long, they look threatening, but they are all the more impressive when you look at the tarantula spiders that they kill and drag into a hole.  The name of the game, as so often is the case, is laying eggs on it for their young to subsequently feed on.  Their behavior is similar to mud dauber wasps which sting and then collect insects or spiders for its larvae to feed upon.

So how do you sting and kill a big hairy venomous spider 5-10 times your size?  Very carefully.  As you can see in this Youtube video, it is a quick and deadly dance and the spider doesn't go quietly.  Even more amazing is the ability of the relatively small wasp to drag its heavy prey across the ground and into a hole.

Stinger- Jim Moore
As you might guess, it takes a long stinger to get through the hair and covering, similar to a man trying to spear an elephant.  The stinger is is even more impressive because of the sting it delivers.  Fortunately they are not aggressive to humans, as the result would be quite memorable. 

An Arizona entomologist, Justin O. Schmidt has studied the pain of stings with masochistic zeal, deliberately exposing himself to 78 species of hymenoptera.  He ranked them on a scale, creating the Schmidt sting pain index.  Some stings he described with the zeal of a food critic.
"Commenting on his own experience, Justin Schmidt described the pain as "…immediate, excruciating pain that simply shuts down one's ability to do anything, except, perhaps, scream. Mental discipline simply does not work in these situations."
"In terms of scale, the wasp's sting is rated near the top of the Schmidt sting pain index, second only to that of the bullet ant, and is described by Schmidt as "blinding, fierce [and] shockingly electric."  Because of their extremely large stingers, very few animals are able to eat them; one of the few animals that can is the roadrunner."   Wikipedia
Beloved baby Darcy
Fortunately, Katy and Bryan's baby Darcy had the common sense to point but not touch her find.  She contemplates her near miss in this picture.

More on tarantula hawks on Wikipedia above and at Bugguide.

More details on Missouri tarantulas at last year's blog.

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