June 24, 2012


As you can see from our journal HOME page, our big Currori is in riotous bloom again this summer. On warm sunny days, it is now covered by a cloud of honey bees busily harvesting the bounty of nectar. This year we noticed that another pollinator is also taking advantage of the bloom. Tarantula hawks are visiting the plant, usually singly, but occasionally two or three at a time. At more than 1½" in length, they are much larger than any of their hymenopteran cousins and, with their distinctive orange wings and iridescent blue-black bodies, make for an arresting sight. They have no interest at all in the honey bees, who seem unperturbed by the presence of such formidable dining companions. The bees do however stay out of the way, leaving the wasps to feed at leisure wherever they want.

In case you are not familiar with tarantula hawks, they have a grisly life cycle. As their name suggests, they are tarantula hunters. When they find one, they land on its back and quickly sting their hapless victim. The sting paralyzes the spider, but does not kill it. They then drag it off to their nest, where a single egg is deposited in the spider. When the larva hatches, it begins feeding off of the innards of the spider, at first carefully avoiding any of the vital organs that keep its host alive. (yuck!) Eventually the spider succumbs and the larve breaks through the exoskeleton, voraciously consuming the outer body of the spider. When it has had its fill, it pupates and in time emerges as a wasp, flying off to begin the cycle all over again.

Tarantula hawks are not particularly aggressive, but their sting is said to be one of the most excruciatingly painful in the insect world. The worst of the pain lasts only 3 or 4 minutes, but those are 3 or 4 minutes you will never forget!

So — you'll have to excuse Petra's blurry close-ups.