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The State Insect of New Mexico

Updated on September 2, 2012

State Insect of New Mexico -- The Tarantula Hawk

The first time I saw a tarantula hawk was in Arizona, on a dusty road in the bright hot sunshine of a summer afternoon. It was flying in a straight line across the road, and my first instinct was to run. The tarantula hawk is a wasp as large as a small bird, with the most painful sting of any insect. It confronts and overpowers gigantic, venomous tarantula spiders, then drags them back to its burrow and plants an egg that will become a parasitic larva. This is a bad - **s bug!

I followed the gigantic wasp as far as I could, and it landed on the ground. Flicking its cool blue/black-and-orange wings, the wasp crawled over the sandy ground, searching for prey. These wasps are truly huge and beautiful, and if you ever see one, count yourself lucky.

Clash of the Titans


The Tarantula Hawk -- Life Cycle and Natural History

The tarantula hawk has a fascinating life cycle. The adult female, which is even larger than the male, hunts for giant tarantula spiders on the desert floor. When she finds one, the fight is on -- the spider defends itself with a vicious bite and poisonous spines that it can fling at an attacker. The wasp possesses a giant, sharp singer and the most potent poison of any insect on the planet. These two wild animals will circle each other, trying to find an advantage -- sometimes the tarantula drives the wasp off, and sometimes the wasp is able to pierce the tough skin of the tarantula with her stinger. When that happens, the tarantula is almost immediately paralyzed.

At this point, the wasp drags the tarantula to its burrow in the ground. There she lays a single egg on the spider's body -- it's still alive -- and seals up the burrow, leaving the spider to its fate. After a few days, a small maggot, the wasp's larval form, hatches out of the egg. The maggot has sharp jaws, and it begins eating the tarantula from the inside out. It's careful to eat only fat deposits and non-essential organs, in order to keep the spider alive for as long as possible.

When the spider is consumed, and larva is about the size of your little finger, the larva transforms into the adult wasp. It crawls to the end of the burrow, digs out, and flies away, to search for more tarantulas...


The State Insect of New Mexico -- The Tarantula Hawk Feeding

Since it doesn't eat any of the spiders it kills (those go to feed its young), the tarantula hawk gets its nutrition by feeding at flowers.


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