Tarantula Hawks

Tarantula hawks are large, colorful wasps in the genus Pepsis. They are found throughout the southwestern United States.

The wasps have a close relationship with the desert or rush milkweed plant (Asclepias subulata). Their long legs slide into the grooves of the milkweed flowers, picking up the bright yellow pollinia. As they move from flower to flower, the wasp pollinates the plant.


We often watch these huge tarantula hawks flying in towards the desert milkweed plants in our yard. You can see them from quite far, flying five to six feet above the ground. To be anthropomorphic, the wasps seem like they’ve been flying for miles and when they locate the milkweed, they target and land. You can almost hear them sigh, “Finally!”

Except they have long legs for carrying and dragging tarantulas, so landing is often less than graceful. Here’s a typical landing sequence:

Tarantula hawks are quite beautiful once they get right side up.


Have you ever seen a tarantula hawk wasp?

2 Replies to “Tarantula Hawks”

  1. Can’t say that I have- at least not that I know of. It definitely is a good-looking insect. Is that just a clever name, or do they hunt tarantulas?

  2. Oh yes, they hunt tarantulas. In general, an adult female wasp hunts for and stings a tarantula, so the tarantula is paralyzed. Then the wasp drags/carries the tarantula to a burrow. Inside the burrow, she lays her eggs on the spider. The larvae that hatch from those eggs use the spider as lunch.

    I’ve actually seen wasps with mud on them from the burrow.

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