With their relatively large, hairy bodies, tarantulas aren’t exactly pretty to look at. Their fear factor goes up when you consider that they they are able to eat larger animals like lizards, mice, and some small birds. However, most of the 900 species have venom weaker than a honeybee and don’t really pose a risk to humans. Besides, if you think these spiders are scary, just imagine the kind of creature that preys on them.
Meet the tarantula hawk:
"Pepsis rubra, Female, side, GTMO, Cuba_2013-11-06-09.54.00 ZS PMax" by USGS Bee Inventory and Monitoring Lab
Adult tarantula hawks are fantastic pollinators and aren't typically aggressive. The males aren’t even able to sting.
The female, on the other hand, is one badass bitch. Though she is pretty docile most of the time, she will strike when threatened. Her sting is described as one of the most severe out of any insect, and for about three minutes, the victim (even a human) completely loses the mental capacity for any other action other than reacting to the pain.
So where do the spiders fit in? Well, when a mommy and daddy tarantula hawk
love each other very much want to pass along their genes and come together to fertilize an egg, they want to make sure that it will be well taken care of, as they won’t physically be present to ensure it survives. They need to find a host, and as the name implies, it's a tarantula. Because male spiders will typically forego eating in order to search for a mate, the wasps prefer to target well-fed females.
When the female wasp is ready, she attacks. If all goes well, the wasp stings the spider, rendering it paralyzed for a few minutes but does not kill it. The fertilized egg is then deposited into the spider’s abdomen so it will be kept safe and warm. A few days later, the larva emerges and begins to feed on the spider’s juices. As it grows over the next 20 days, it continues to eat the still-living spider from the inside, but is careful not to eat vital organs which would kill the spider, meaning that the larva wouldn’t have fresh food.
The tarantula isn’t typically able to kill the wasp, because the wasp can just fly out of reach. At best, the spider just hopes to escape and fights fiercely, knowing it is a matter of life and death. Despite the wasp’s advantage, the outcome of the encounter could go either way.
Who do you think will win this round?