Sunday, May 25, 2014

Red Car Property: Tarantula Hawk - Another Reason Not To Wear Sandals When Hiking

Photos: Diane Edwardson, May 25, 2014.  That's a small 2" long Tarantula Hawk.  The ones I've seen on the Red Car Property usually have 3" long bodies!    (Click on photos to enlarge.)

While stopping to look for the Cooper's Hawk I'd heard earlier, where Red Car Canyon opens up into the meadow on the south end of the property, I heard a "Click click click," like a camera shutter, fly behind my knees.  From the sound, I knew it was likely one of the scariest & least photographed bugs I've ever encountered on the Red Car Property, I shortened the dog's leash, grabbed my camera, looked around on the ground.
Sure enough, it was a Tarantula Hawk, a huge wasp with an reportedly nasty sting.  She was rapidly & methodically walking a grid pattern of about 12" across then 6" up then 12" back again.  She covered about 7' in a very short span of time. She must've been hot on the trail of ground dwelling insects to lay her eggs in. She lays one egg in the host.  The size of the host determines the size of the offspring, clearly getting her name from her preference for Tarantulas. 

Last year, I encountered one of these scary creatures while it was walking in & out of gopher holes above the historic viaduct footings.  At which point, I searched What's That Bug? for answers.

UPDATE, 5-26-14: What's That Bug adds the wasp may have been hunting for prey or looking for a suitable nursery.  Thanks Bugman!