My buddy Lee and I were taking a late afternoon hike in a secret Santa Ana Mountain canyon Friday afternoon when we encountered what is unquestionably one of the scariest animals I’ve ever seen – the gigantic Tarantula Hawk Wasp. Its relative size when flying is about that of a small hummingbird. The wasp actually preys on tarantula spiders, which explains it’s large size. Note that the Wikipedia article linked to above states that its sting is the second most painful of any insect in the world. This is a good fact to know, and one that we were not aware of at the time of the unexpected encounter. The brightly colored wings are a warning to predators to stay away.
The creature stings the tarantula, but unfortunately for the poor tarantula the venom does not kill. The venom paralyzes the tarantula, and the wasp then lays its eggs in the doomed spiders body. The now-zombified victim is then used as food for the larvae of the wasp, which eat it alive as they grow. The scenario is like a horror movie for tarantulas. On my video of the tarantula hawk wasp below it’s a little difficult to see clearly, but you can find others if interested on Youtube. Perhaps the scariest and most peculiar behavior of this demonic flying beast is that it seems equally comfortable and nimble on land as in the air. You can see some of this behavior on the video. It lands, then scurries quickly about like a beetle or spider, searching in crevices and rooting about with its clawed legs, before rapidly taking off again. An interesting and unique creature for sure!