If you’ve ever wondered what the most painful insect sting is, we’ve got you covered. Not only is this insect’s sting the most painful in Arizona – it’s the most painful insect sting in the whole country, and is one of the most painful insect stings in the whole world! So let’s get right to it.
The Tarantula Hawk Wasp
It’s not a tarantula nor a hawk, but rather a solitary wasp that preys on tarantulas. And are we really surprised that it’s a wasp that reigns supreme here? Many wasps are known to be aggressive, and have some of the freakiest or nastiest ways of bringing forth their offspring (of course, that’s from a human perspective. But truly in nature, all is fair in love and war).
Wait, so how nasty or freaky, you may wonder? Well, a Tarantula Hawk Wasp stings a tarantula and paralyzes it. Then it drags this paralyzed tarantula that’s several times its weight back to its burrow where the wasp lays a single egg on its abdomen. It then seals the burrow and leaves to return to its otherwise normal and even quaint life of nectar-feeding.
Back in the burrow, once the egg hatches, it starts to feed on the immobile tarantula right away, making sure to eat the non-essential organs first to keep it alive as long as possible. Savage.
Oh, and one more thing. The Tarantula Hawk Wasp may dig its own burrow, or use the tarantula’s own burrow. Where the tarantula, still alive, will slowly be eaten by her offspring. Absolute savage.
So what do they look like?
They are one of the largest parasitoid wasps at around 2 inches or 5 cm long. They have long legs with hooked claws, and metallic blue-black bodies, with rust-colored wings.
Where can I find them?
They’re found in every continent except Europe and Antarctica. In the US, they can be found in the deserts of the southwest or wherever tarantulas are found.
So how painful are their stings?
The sting from a Tarantula Hawk Wasp is categorized as Level 4 in the Schmidt Sting Pain Index (created by entomologist Dr. Justin Schmidt). To quote, “the pain is so immediate and intense that it shuts down all illusions of life as normal.” Sounds poignant but also pretty vicious, and certainly not something most people would want to experience.
That said, while a sting from this wasp can be extremely excruciating, it leaves no tissue damage.
While females can easily sting humans, they don’t go out of their way to do so. They’ll only sting you if they feel threatened. Males don’t sting at all.
Are there other insects or animals that prey on them?
Because of their highly painful stings, very few creatures would dare to challenge a Tarantula Hawk Wasp. Their coloration is aposematic, which warns predators that this potential meal is not worth the trouble. Two of those very few creatures are the roadrunner and bullfrog.
Check out our other blog entries on wasps (and bees) here.
If you find Tarantula Hawk Wasps on your property, get in touch with a pest control company for assistance!