Tarantula Hawk   Leave a comment

We have a wide range of interests and some really interesting discussions at our knitting group.  A couple of weeks ago, somehow we got on the subject of the tarantula hawk.

Now a tarantula hawk is neither a tarantula nor a hawk, but a large and scary-looking wasp.  I wrote about it once before.  I have a vivid memory of the sight of one clearing the block when I was growing up in Taft.  Someone would scream and point, and there would be a mass stampede of screaming children headed for the house.

As an adult, I figured that the legend of the tarantula hawk was probably mostly in our minds.  After all, I never heard of one actually stinging anybody . . . of course it didn’t have much of a chance.

However, in these days of the Internet, it didn’t take more than a few minutes for one of the knitters to find the critter on Wikipedia.  The tarantula hawk is a large black wasp with rusty-orange wings.  The female hunts tarantulas, paralyzes them with her venom, and lays an egg on their abdomens.  The larva then hatches and eats the tarantula alive — a process once described with relish by Calvin of “Calvin and Hobbes”.  The male is relatively innocuous, and confines himself to milkweed blossoms.

A researcher called Justin Schmidt allowed himself to be Stung for Science.  He describes the pain of a tarantula hawk sting as “blinding, fierce, shockingly electric”.  It’s “excruciating pain that shuts down one’s ability to do anything except, perhaps, scream.”  It’s the second most painful insect sting in the world.  The good news is a) the wasp is relatively docile and stings only when provoked, and b) the worst of the pain “only lasts about three minutes”.

I’ll bet it’s a long three minutes.

Anyway, a few days later, friend and fellow knitter Sasha sent me this picture that her husband Andy took.

Andysthawk

Yep, that’s a tarantula hawk, a male.  It’s in a classic pose, feeding on a milkweed flower.

Andy took it up on North Chester.

That’s too darned close.  True, it’s a male.  Where there is a male tarantula hawk, there must be a female somewhere; and where there are tarantula hawks, there must be tarantulas.

I wonder how fast I can run screaming to the house at seventy?

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Posted June 28, 2013 by stablewoman in Nature

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