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Wanda Wasp in the flesh...I mean exoskeleton!
By: Gillian, Volunteer Manager, Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium, Audubon Aquarium of the Americas
Something is always "buzzing" at the Insectarium and this week is no exception. Last month two of our staff entomologist brought back a special animal with them from Arizona. If you have ever seen our movie Awards Night during your visit to our facility you may remember a certain character named Wanda Wasp. If you haven't seen the movie you are definitely missing out on a great show. Wanda Wasp's character is portrayed by a tarantula hawk wasp and we have five on display right now at the Insectarium!
So what is a tarantula hawk wasp? Good question!
Tarantula hawks are a species of large wasps in the family of Pompilidae. There are about 300 different species that can be found in the U.S. and as their name suggests they look for tarantulas, but not to eat (at least as an adult wasp). When a female is ready to lay an egg she will search out a tarantula and sting it, paralyzing the spider. She then drags it into her burrow that she has prepared and lays one single egg on the tarantula's body. When the egg hatches the larva that emerges will have a live spider as its first meal. The larva will eat the entire spider before it pupates in the same burrow. After pupation is complete a new adult wasp will emerge from the ground to begin the process over again.
Adult wasps of this species drink nectar. The genus Pepsis and Hemipepsis bodies are generally metallic blue in color with dark wings or reddish-orange wings. Antennae of this wasp may be black or orange. They are solitary animals and are reported to have a very painful sting, but unless you plan on picking one up and restraining it you should be fine. The ones that we have on display at the Insectarium are approximately 2 inches long.
Other than watching the movie or viewing our live specimens, you can also see two examples in the Hall of Fame gallery in the "Size Matters" and "Star-Spangled Bugs" exhibits.