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5 minutes of laying down and screaming – you better avoid the tarantula hawk wasp

Posted September 25, 2019

Like most people, you’ve probably experiences a bee sting or two. Bees, wasps and even bumblebees are always around us and we should be happy about it, because they do a very important job of pollinating. However, getting stung still sucks, especially if you happen to meet a tarantula hawk – a wasp, whose sting is known to cause unbelievable pain.

Tarantula hawk wasp looks relatively innocent, but can cause unbelievably strong pain. Image credit: Davehood via Wikimedia, Public Domain

Tarantula hawk wasps got their name for a simple reason of eating tarantulas. The biggest species of tarantula hawk reach the length of  5 cm and are among the largest of wasps. Tarantula hawks live pretty much everywhere – from India to Southeast Asia, Africa, Europe, Australia, and the Americas. However, this particular species, called Pepsis grossa, are mostly concentrated in the deserts of the southwestern United States. If you happen to meet one and it stings you, scientists have only one advice – lay down and scream.

That may seem like a useless advice, but that’s pretty much the only thing you will be able to do anyway. Pepsis grossa, like other tarantula hawks, avoid people and confrontation in general. They only sting when it is absolutely necessary to defend themselves or their nest. However, some people have experienced their sting and it is very painful.

Tarantula hawk stinger – it can cause intense pain that messes up your ability to think. Image credit: Rankin1958 via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)

In fact, the sting of Pepsis grossa is rated near the top of the Schmidt sting pain index. Justin O. Schmidt, author of the Schmidt sting pain index, described this pain as “blinding, fierce [and] shockingly electric.” Other people described it as unbearable. You cannot walk, you cannot move and you cannot even think. Whatever the remedies there are, your mind will not be there to use them. You will succumb to pain like a small child and there will be nothing else to do than to lay down and scream to your heart’s content. That is what people generally do after getting stung by a tarantula hawk wasp.

There are some good news, however. Firstly, intense pain will only last for about 5 minutes. Sure, you will think you are dying, but you will be fine. Although tarantula hawk causes intense pain, its venom is not dangerous to people. You will be fine after a while and no medical attention is required. There will be some redness in the area, which will last for up to one week, but you will return to work the very next day as usual. And you will have quite a story to tell.

Tarantula hawk wasps are scary, but they do need their incredible sting for defence purposes. While most predators avoid tarantula hawks completely, roadrunners have no problem to eat them. Other than them, tarantula hawk’s defence is pretty good. So good, in fact, that many other insects try to mimic its appearance to scare potential predators away.

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