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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Psycho Spider Killer: What is It?

I've been waiting an entire month to write this post, and maybe my entire life to entomologically riff off a Talking Heads song title! On Monday, October 1, I found a large tarantula hawk wasp (a.k.a Pepsis wasp) on some flowering Baccharis in the North Campus. This blue wasp with orange wings was the first of its kind spotted in our new gardens, and is indeed a spider killer.

Tarantula Hawk on Baccharis

This is what Insects of the Los Angeles Basin has to say about tarantula hawks preying on spiders:

"When a female wasp finds a tarantula, she alights and engages it in battle. The wasp then stings the spider on the underside between the legs and usually succeeds in paralyzing but not killing it. She has previously dug a shallow burrow, using her mandibles and legs as a pick and shovel, or selected an earth crack, rodent burrow, or even the burrow of a tarantula for a nest, and she now drags the paralyzed prey into his hole, lays an egg on the victim, and then seals the tunnel with soil. A supply of fresh food is thus insured for the developing larva."

Oh and let's not forget that a sting from one of these wasps can be very painful to us humans too! According to awesomely geeky entomologist, Justin O. Schmidt, this wasp's sting is among the most painful in the world. He described the painwhich lasted for about 3 minutesas, "blinding, fierce, shockingly electric. A running hair drier has been dropped into your bubble bath (if you get stung by one you might as well lie down and scream)." He also rated the pain as a 4, which is at the very top of his 0-4 scale of pain. That's right folks, he has documented the pain induced from over 100 insect stings in his lifewhat a scientist!

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