Earth Notes: Halloween Tarantulas
If you’ve been out hiking the last few weeks, you may have seen one of the Colorado Plateau’s scariest-looking residents. Male tarantulas are on the move from late summer through fall, on a quest to find mates.
It’s a perilous journey for the spiders. If they don’t get squashed crossing a road, they risk being killed by female tarantulas. Though the females are homebodies who generally prefer to stay around their burrows, they can have an aggressive side and often kill the males after mating.
But that might be a better fate than another grisly hazard these spiders face; the terrifying tarantula hawk wasp. If one of these fearsome wasps finds a hapless tarantula, it stings the spider, paralyzing it.
Stinging a tarantula several times larger than itself is risky business, so the tarantula hawk wasp is equipped with one of the most painful stings of any insect in the world. It has a top score of 4 out of 4 on the Schmidt pain index. Human victims often describe the pain of a sting as one of the most agonizing experiences of their lives.
But for the tarantula, worse than the sting is the lingering death because once the hawk wasp has disabled its prey, it stuffs the tarantula down a burrow, then lays an egg in it.
The developing larval wasp proceeds to eat the tarantula from the inside out. It reportedly saves the vital organs until last—keeping the victim alive through the whole experience in order to provide fresh food for as long as possible.