Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Oh, the horror!

We have a horror film showing right out in our garden. Really.

Here’s my young associate to tell you all about it:

 Aaagh! Giant wasp!

This is the wasp that inspired such terror. 
No really, he's bigger than he appears here.
Flying drunkenly through the bridal wreath, (Spiraea prunifolia) it cruised through the salvias, (Salvia coccinea) then dropped to the ground like a rock. Feeling like a maiden in distress, I leaped onto the porch, screaming “aaaaaahhgg!!!” in my head over and over again. We had seen this humongous wasp before, but not up close, like this.

The man of the house decided it was a tarantula hawk wasp (Pepsis thisbe/Pepsis formosa). I didn’t care what it was, it had a huge stinger, so keep it away!!!!!!! It turns out this formidable creature was something like a horror movie character. One researcher cited on Wikipedia described the wasps’ sting, “Immediate, excruciating pain that simply shuts down one’s ability to do anything except scream.” Apparently, the intense pain lasts only about 3 minutes, but hey, I’m not one to test theories. Luckily, unless harassed, they usually don’t sting

Here’s how the tarantula hawk wasp got its name:

Imagine this…

It’s a muggy late August evening in Texas. The scent of fermented fruit and rain drifts lazily to you. A fat male black wasp with rust colored wings sits on top of a tall salvia bush. This, you know, is called hill-topping. Suddenly a female wasp drifts lazily through the path of flowers. The male, needing a mate, chooses this fine feminine wasp.

Shortly after we identified the wasp, my young associate noticed 
a motionless tarantula beside the path - which was soon joined by 
a tarantula hawk, which then dragged the tarantula away. 
Both these photos were taken by my associate.
After a few days, this female locates a tarantula. Diving in on the tarantula, the battle begins!!  The tarantula wheels up on the wasp, ready to defend itself. The wasp seizes her chance and stings the tarantula under the belly, touching a nerve, and paralyzing it. Unable to fight back, the tarantula is dragged to a hole in the ground, and, rudely, it can be his or her own hole! Talk about unwanted visitors!!

The female wasp then lays a solitary egg in the tarantula and covers the hole. She then leaves the hole to who-knows-where.  The larvae hatches, and begins feeding on the almost dead, paralyzed tarantula.

According to Wikipedia, after a few weeks, the larvae pupates. Then, it breaks free!!!!

And if you happen to see a tarantula hawk wasp drifting drunkenly around, remember this: fruit for the wasps is like alcohol for us humans. Too much makes them drunk!

Favorite spot in the garden:

As a said on the last post and will say on the next, the garden looks very grim. One bright spot is the volunteer morning glories. We planted this lovely deep purple variety last year. The new seeds I planted this year did not survive, but the offspring  of last year’s plant are doing very well. I am slowly training them to head up the porch posts, but without rain it is slow growing.


  1. Interesting info about this wasp. Thankfully, I don't see many tarantulas here, so maybe I'll be safe from the horror and fear of being stung. Your associate deserves a raise! :) Your morning glories are beautiful - love the blue/purple shade. They are very invasive here, but this one would (almost) convince me to grow one.

  2. A wasp big enough to kill a tarantula? That would give me nightmares! But then, so would tarantulas just walking around in my backyard!

  3. yeah, they are pretty scary. The associate, (me) agrees with HollyGarden, I need a raise. even if I am only 10, and my only raise is in allowance.