Thursday, July 21, 2011

Ignorance was bliss


There are all these orange-winged bugs flying around out here. I've seen them in summers gone by, but this year there are a gazillion more than ever before. I'll be working at my computer when something catches my eye out the window. A flock of birds perhaps, landing on the sagebrush? No ... just a swarm of these bugs. Did I mention they were big? As in two-inches-long big. So big that they fly very slowly because they can barely lift themselves off the ground. Which is a good thing. I've got lots of time to get out of their way when I see them coming.

Anyway, I've been spending so much time among these bugs lately – they particularly love to keep me company when I'm filling the stock tank – that my curiosity finally got the better of me. I consulted with Professor Google, and he tells me that these aren't just any bugs; they are the official state insects of New Mexico...

...Tarantula Hawk Wasps.

I knew this couldn't be good as soon as I saw the name. I instantly jumped to the conclusion that these wasps turn into tarantulas when they're done flying. Turns out that's not how it works. The truth may be even scarier. 

When a female Tarantula Hawk Wasp is ready to lay her eggs, she finds a tarantula and injects it with paralyzing venom.
She drags the tarantula to a burrow and stuffs it down the hole, then lays her eggs on top of the paralyzed spider.
Several days later the eggs hatch and the larvae feed on the still-living tarantula.
Wait...you aren't reading this while eating your breakfast, are you? Sorry.

Only a few animals, such as roadrunners, eat Tarantula Hawk Wasps. 
It should come as no surprise that I've watched my chickens eat them. They'll eat anything.

Tarantula wasps rarely sting people, as they are very docile; however, they may sting if provoked. Get this: Their sting is among the most painful in the insect world, while only lasting for around three minutes. The sting is said to be immediate and excruciating with the victim unable to do anything other than scream with pain for the three minutes.
I wonder what it takes to provoke them? Sticking a camera in their faces? Let's hope not.

Female Tarantula Hawk Wasps have a stinger that can be as long as a third of an inch.
I think all the wasps in these pictures are males because I'm not seeing any stingers.
The females are so busy paralyzing tarantulas with their venom that they don't have time to pose for pictures.

Let's count all the Tarantula Hawk Wasps on this sagebrush, shall we? 1...2...3... ok, I'm up to 11. 
Had I known what these bugs were while I was standing inches away from them trying to compose the perfect wasp shot, 
believe me, I would have used a much longer lens.


Since there are so many more Tarantula Hawk Wasps this year than last, I'm thinking there was a proliferation of tarantulas last summer upon which the females laid their eggs. Or does it mean there will be a proliferation of tarantulas this summer? 

In either case, I'm just trying to do my part to control the further migration of people to New Mexico.

52 comments:

  1. holy stinging wasps Batman!! ;-) I will stop complaining about our population explosion of pesky small mosquitoes now.

    ReplyDelete
  2. There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
    Than are dreamt of in your philosophy... Thanks for the lovely details ;)

    ReplyDelete
  3. Now that was definitely an intersting, and informative, post.

    They certainly are very colorful, but as I read on, to me they're scary. Carson, definitely don't *iss one of them off!!!

    They always say, around here anyway, that a cold winter will kill off bugs ... well, NOT true I say. We had one of the coldest winters and the bug population is overwhelming. UGH!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Even all your photographs of gorgeous landscape and light can't quite tip the scale on these!

    ReplyDelete
  5. We have some interesting ground wasps here this summer. They weren't bothering me so left them alone, but did look them up. Turns out they are cicada killer wasps. AND, while most of our area is plagued with droning cicadas, I'll here one for about 10 minutes in the morning and then....nothing more ;-).

    ReplyDelete
  6. Good job, Linda, keep that "ewwwww" factor right up front. We're headed out into the desert this morning with walking sticks and cameras. Let's see what we can scare up. Or what scares us...

    ReplyDelete
  7. The females with the stingers must be out looking for spiders. There is always an offense and defense in the natural world.
    Best always, Sandra

    ReplyDelete
  8. Clever. At least for this morning, I'm not covering a ranch in NM.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Holy frick! You better gather up the herd and get out of dodge while you still can! Yikes!

    ReplyDelete
  10. this is the third blog this week that I've said "EWWWWWWWWWWW" (what's up with all of you?) but I must also say "EEEEEEEKKKKK!!!!" that is like something out of a horror movie..... poor little tarantulas.....

    awesome shots!!!!

    ReplyDelete
  11. Fascinating!
    Frankly, I'm not sure which would cause me more emotional damage.
    Massive spider or massive wasp? Hmmm...

    ReplyDelete
  12. Just when I think you can't top yourself proving that you're the bravest woman I "know" (snakes in trailer hitches, coyotes on the hunt, snakes in general, etc.) you stun me with another reason why you're my one-woman hero! F*ugly!

    ReplyDelete
  13. Nancy in NC7/21/11, 6:50 AM

    Personally, I'd bet this post was a success in your attempt to deter people from coming your way! YUK...

    ReplyDelete
  14. I am so happy you did your research because we've had those here too (Central Coast CA) and I didn't know what they were. I saw some dragging a dead tarantula into a hole and thought it was so bizarre. I've never seen gangs of them like you have, but now I'll be better informed.

    ReplyDelete
  15. OK... you are doing a fine job. I'm staying here!

    ReplyDelete
  16. Jeez, I'm glad that there aren't any of those in my area. Didn't know that there are such bugs like that.

    ReplyDelete
  17. OH, you can have those!

    So glad they live in your neck of the woods and not mine in WI!

    ReplyDelete
  18. They're beautiful -- your photos really captured them well. It doesn't sound as if they bother the animals, and I'm pretty sure you don't wander around barefoot -- so things are in balance.

    ReplyDelete
  19. Gorgeous photographs as always, especially the critter caught in mid-flight with his landing gear down. Fascinating science, even at breakfast -- who knew there were such specialized wasps? But I'm really not fond of bugs. Think I'll just enjoy my air conditioned office today!

    ReplyDelete
  20. We have those suckers here, too. They always seem to fly around me when I'm filling the water tank. They scare the heck out of me just because of their size. Now that I know what they do-I'll be warning all the sweet, hairy tarantulas I find!

    ReplyDelete
  21. Those are pretty! Once, one got in the pool with my kids and it was scary looking- must have been a female.

    ReplyDelete
  22. I've been lurking for awhile, but I had to comment today. Loved the line about controlling the movement of people to your area! Missouri was overwhelmed with the 13 year cicadas this year. Look those up. They are "interesting."

    ReplyDelete
  23. I think I'll stick to the brand of nature I'm familiar with here, no need to migrate to New Mexico!

    ReplyDelete
  24. Carol in Colo7/21/11, 8:32 AM

    The wasp are beautiful. I Have heard of these wasp before but never saw a picture of them. The colors are amazing when in flight. It would be interesting to see the female with her stinger. I would imagine we would have them in Southern Colorado too.

    ReplyDelete
  25. Well okay now, your one woman campaign is working for sure. We will be driving through NM in a couple of weeks, we'll keep the windows rolled up and drive on smartly!!

    ReplyDelete
  26. Have you no shame? You'll go to any length to keep your neighbours at bay. I'm secretly impressed by your ruthless tactics.

    This has got to be nature at her freakiest. Whoa...I hope your chickens are hungry 'cause I sure wouldn't want all those spiders looking for a warm place to nestle into for the winter, if you know what I mean. Blech.

    ReplyDelete
  27. Sounds like something out of a horror movie. Major yuck.
    Suzanne

    ReplyDelete
  28. Well, that's just nasty. Maybe you could import some roadrunners to your property for a buffet.

    ReplyDelete
  29. They don't sting chickens (or dogs, pigs, donkeys)? Of course chickens often just scream for a minute or two for the fun of it, so how would you know the difference? My big chickens kill and eat mice.

    ReplyDelete
  30. Wow. Venom-paralyzing, New Mexico Tarantula Hawk Wasps totally trump Giant Slimy Disgusting Oregon Slugs.
    Well done. (ha ha ha ha!)

    ReplyDelete
  31. no way i'm visiting NM now! i was freaked out at photo number 2, before you even said their name or how creepy and painful they are.

    ReplyDelete
  32. Too bad they're such great looking bugs cuz I'd be killing the heck out of them if they came near me. Oh wait... maybe I should just kill all the tarantulas around me so the wapy thingies' babies would starve to death!!! No Cap'n Crunch for YOU!

    ReplyDelete
  33. They certainly look like little bada$$ critters. Life in the wilds of NM.

    Always good to know that tarantulas have something to be wary of.

    Great pics.

    ReplyDelete
  34. Geez, and you wanted me to ranch sit again THIS weekend, LOL!

    ReplyDelete
  35. I live in NM. Our local tarantulas do not hurt people. If you turn them over and rub their tummies, they go to sleep. The Tarantula Wasp is a visicious critter and should be wiped out!

    ReplyDelete
  36. Reading this post and the comments...I've just decided that I'm a huge wimp. I want nothing to do with either the tarantulas OR the painfulstinging wasps. That is all.

    ReplyDelete
  37. Roadrunners, roadrunnesr, come out wherever YOU are!!! I've always wanted to come back to NM but I wouldn't want to see these critters! eeeeEEEEEkkKKKK! Spiders, all spiders freak me out!!Good Luck!They won't sting the donks and Hank and Smooch and all your other sweeties will they?!!

    ReplyDelete
  38. I'm stunned... and so not moving to to New Mexico! LOL ... Does Texas have these as well? A nice cold winter and snow does help with keeping away this sort of insect...

    ReplyDelete
  39. Fascinating post!! I have never heard of these bugs... they sound ferocious! Pretty red color though.... they look nice decorating your sage!

    ReplyDelete
  40. I'm afraid I would have to...MOVE. Ick! At least in the cold NE, we don't have to deal with a bug that can stuff a tarantula in a hole after it paralyzes it!!! Lol--be careful :)

    ReplyDelete
  41. Nasty! But I still love New Mexico and still wish I could be there.

    Cheers --

    ReplyDelete
  42. ooh my gosh I never knew that....eeekkkkk

    ReplyDelete
  43. *SHUDDDDDERRRRRR!!!!!*

    ReplyDelete
  44. I will keep a watch out for these tarantula hawk wasps. We do have a lot of roadrunners :) I'm more afraid of a brown recluse spider than a tarantula.

    ReplyDelete
  45. They are really beautiful! Poor tarantulas....at least they aren't eaten by their own females like the black widows....

    Nancy in Iowa

    ReplyDelete
  46. Love the pictures :)

    There are parasitic wasps of various types in many regions. I knew about the small one that lays eggs on Tomato Worms, but the first time I encountered a swarm of Cicada Killers was at my front door ... hovering at knee height ... around a dozen of them I did a little freak-out.

    They look like Super-Sized hornets. When I first looked up hornets I was trying to figure out how a Japanese Hornet was in NC???? Told my mother to stay inside. Once I figured out what they were I didn't have to worry about getting attacked by walking past them.

    Haven't seen any this year and the Cicada's are DEAFENING!

    MaryAnn in NC

    ReplyDelete
  47. Mother Nature is one tough cookie.

    ReplyDelete
  48. I was doing the same thing with a wheel bug (sticking my camera in his business and not knowing the name of the bug I was pestering at the time). They are also huge, and with a big gear thing on their back. Found out later they TOO have an excruciating sting. If bitten, you're suppose to apply ammonia (such as windex) within a couple minutes of being bitten to neutralize the acid or base or whatever the pH is of the sting. Not sure why I feel so safe with a camera between me and the bugs, but I just do. :-/

    Signed,
    Haven't Been Stung Yet

    ReplyDelete
  49. I have had 2 or 3 here at my Oklahoma home. They are said to have the worst sting of any wasp but are not aggressive (who cares). I just saw one crawling out of my garage...yuck. But, yes they kill a tarantula and drag it back to their hole, lay eggs, and the young feed on the tarantula. So you probably won't have any more tarantulas,,,,but you now have a terrifying amount of godzilla size wasps.

    ReplyDelete