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Tarantula Wasps in the Virgin Islands Kill Tarantulas & Bury the Carcasses

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Note: The exact species (including the scientific name) of tarantula hawk wasps that inhabit the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico are not identified in this story. State of the Territory News has requested digital access to at least one scientific journal in Puerto Rico that has studied tarantula hawk wasps and their behavior.

Charlotte Amalie 𑁋 Children playing outside in the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico have likely crossed paths with a tarantula hawk wasp. They are also known as tarantula wasps. Gardeners, landscapers, and homeowners may have sighted them scurrying around the brush and in grassy clearings.

In the Virgin Islands, a variety of tarantula wasp with a black, slender exoskeleton and broad red wings

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Over 250 species inhabit South America. As many as 15 species inhabit the United States. At least nine species call the desert their home, and tarantula hawks thrive wherever tarantulas live. Tarantula hawks hunt and kill a variety of tarantulas around the world.

Adult tarantula hawks are nectarivores, feeding primarily on flowers and nectar. They get their name because adult females hunt tarantulas as food for their larvae. An adult female will paralyze a tarantula with its powerful stinger and then transport the spider back to its nest.

The red and black variety (at least on St. Thomas) does not transport tarantulas to its nest. Tarantula hawks on St. Thomas are known to chase or remove tarantulas out of their dens. Tarantulas are then flipped on their backs and injected with a paralyzing venom that effectively cripples them. The female tarantula wasp then lays several eggs in the spider’s abdomen and shoves the arthropod back into its den before burying the hole with a layer of soil and debris.

Once buried, the insect’s larvae will have a safe place to live and a food source provided by a generous parent. It’s difficult to say how populations of tarantula hawks have been affected by human development in the Virgin Islands.

When an entire plot of land is developed for residential, government, or business use, tarantula holes are often destroyed in the process. Tarantula hawk wasps continue to lose land that supports their complex reproductive cycle; the result could make it increasingly rare to spot one in the Virgin Islands.