Can a tarantula win against a tarantula hawk?

A battle between a tarantula and a tarantula hawk is a sight to behold in the insect world. Tarantulas are large, hairy spiders that can grow up to 10 inches long. Tarantula hawks are one of their main predators – they are wasps that hunt, paralyze and lay eggs inside of tarantulas as food for their larvae. It’s an epic life-or-death battle when these two bugs meet.

What are tarantulas?

Tarantulas are spiders that belong to the Theraphosidae family. There are over 1,000 species found in tropical, subtropical and arid regions around the world. They are characterized by their large, hairy bodies and legs. Despite their fearsome appearance, most tarantula species are not dangerous to humans. Some key facts about tarantulas:

  • Can have leg spans of 4-12 inches wide
  • Covered in hair-like setae on body and legs
  • Live 10-30 years in captivity
  • Nocturnal hunters, eating insects, frogs, lizards and small mammals
  • Some species can shoot irritating hairs from their abdomens in defense
  • Venom is used to paralyze prey but usually not dangerous to humans
  • Females can live 15-30 years, males only 7-10 years

Tarantulas are ambush predators that wait outside their burrows for passing prey. When threatened, they can use their fangs to bite and inject venom. They also use their hind legs to flick barbed hairs from their abdomen into the air to deter predators. Their size and hairiness makes them formidable opponents against their natural enemies.

What are tarantula hawks?

Tarantula hawks belong to the Pepsinae subfamily of wasps. There are over 250 species found in warmer regions around the world. They are one of the main predators of tarantulas. Some key facts about tarantula hawks:

  • 2-3 inches long with orange wings and long, spindly legs
  • Extremely painful sting, rated one of most painful insect stings
  • Only the females hunt tarantulas
  • Paralyze tarantulas with sting then lay a single egg on them
  • Larva hatches and eats the tarantula alive
  • Do not aggressively attack humans

The tarantula hawk uses its 2-inch long stinger to attack the spider’s nervous system and paralyze it. Once defenseless, the wasp drags the tarantula into a burrow and lays a single egg on its abdomen. When the egg hatches, the larva slowly eats the spider alive, avoiding vital organs to keep it fresh. One wasp can devastate an entire tarantula colony this way.

How do tarantulas defend themselves from tarantula hawks?

When a tarantula hawk is spotted, the tarantula relies on several defense mechanisms to avoid becoming prey:

Size advantage

Tarantulas are much larger than tarantula hawks, typically 3-4 times the size. Their sheer bulk and mass makes them a formidable foe against the wasp’s sting. The spider uses its size to overpower and crush the wasp if given the chance.

Thick exoskeleton

A tarantula’s exoskeleton is covered with thick hair and hardened plates on the top, providing protection against the wasp’s sting. This armor helps defend against the sting’s full impact.

Flicking hairs

Tarantulas can use their hind legs to flick barbed hairs from their abdomen at the wasp. These tiny hairs irritate the wasp’s eyes and body, making it harder for the wasp to attack. The hairs can disrupt the hunting attempt.

Venom bite

If the tarantula grabs the wasp in its fangs, it can inject venom to injure or even kill the attacker. Tarantula venom paralyzes prey and contains enzyme that break down tissue. This can disable the wasp’s stinger.

Early warning

Tarantulas have sensitive hairs on their body that detect air movement. This alerts them to approaching danger, allowing time to prepare their defenses. Against the stealthy tarantula hawk, every second counts.

Burrow retreat

Tarantulas’ burrows provide an escape from aerial attacks by tarantula hawks. The spider can quickly retreat and hide in its burrow if the wasp is spotted early enough.

How do tarantula hawks successfully hunt tarantulas?

Despite the tarantula’s defenses, tarantula hawks have evolved their own set of adaptations to be effective spider hunters:

Surprise aerial attack

Tarantula hawks attack from the air, swooping down by surprise onto the tarantula on the ground. This avoids a direct confrontation and catches the tarantula off-guard before it can react.

Speed and agility

The wasp’s flight capabilities give it speed and agility advantages against the slower, lumbering tarantula. The tarantula has a hard time keeping up with the rapid motions of the airborne wasp.

Dodging spider defenses

Its small size and aerial abilities let the tarantula hawk dodge the spider’s venomous bites and flying hairs while attacking. The wasp is a challenging target.

Powerful sting

The tarantula hawk’s sting is extremely painful and targeted to paralyze the spider’s nervous system. Even a glancing sting can severely hinder the tarantula’s movements.

Dragging ability

Once paralyzed, the wasp uses its powerful legs and wings to drag the heavy tarantula away, even larger specimens. Their legs have hookedadaptations specifically for pulling.

Buzzing wings

Some tarantula hawk species are thought to use their loud, buzzing wings to disorient and confuse tarantulas during attack. This distraction makes it harder for the spider to land an accurate counterattack.

Who wins in a typical showdown?

In most cases, the tarantula hawk is the victor in battles with tarantulas. This is due to the wasp’s element of surprise and special adaptations that give it an offensive edge. Some key advantages working in the wasp’s favor:

  • Aerial attack neutralizes tarantula’s size
  • Paralyzing sting overwhelms exoskeleton armor
  • Speed and agility overcome spider’s defenses
  • Dragging ability defeats spider’s bulk

Unless the tarantula sees the wasp coming early and retreats quickly to its burrow, the wasp usually gets the best of it in one-on-one contests. The tarantula’s best chance of survival is avoiding confrontation completely if possible.

Situations where the tarantula wins

There are some scenarios where the tarantula can defeat the wasp:

  • Successfully flees to its burrow upon early detection
  • Quickly bites wasp before sting occurs
  • Uses legs and hairs to block stinger insertion
  • Lands a direct hit with venomous bite
  • Crushes the wasp against the ground

If the tarantula reacts quickly and gets the upper hand early, it can use its size and venom to win. But these seem to be relatively rare outcomes.

When the wasp wins

It is much more common for the tarantula hawk to be victorious by:

  • Surprising the spider with sting before it detects danger
  • Using agility to dodge spider’s defenses
  • Stinging and paralyzing the tarantula fully
  • Dragging paralyzed spider away before recovery
  • Laying an egg on the tarantula’s abdomen

Unless the spider escapes underground in time, the wasp usually overpowers it with a precise ambush, devastating sting and ability to haul the hefty spider away.


The tarantula is equipped with size, thick armor, irritating hairs and venom that make it a dangerous opponent. However, the tarantula hawk’s stealthy ambush, speedy attack, potent sting and dragging strength combine to give it the edge in most battles. The wasp’s paralyzing offensive abilities typically overcome the spider’s defensive adaptations and size advantage. While the giant spider certainly puts up a fight, the odds favor the tarantula hawk claiming final victory and the tarantula’s body in the end.

Tarantula Strengths Tarantula Hawk Strengths
Size – much larger than wasp Aerial attack – surprise sting from above
Thick exoskeleton – armor against sting Speed and agility – dodge spider’s defenses
Flying hairs – irritate wasp’s body Dragging ability – pull paralyzed spider away
Venomous bite – paralyze and kill wasp Painful sting – paralyze nervous system
Early warning – detect approaching wasp Buzzing wings – confuse and disorient spider
Burrow retreat – hide from aerial attack Single-minded persistence – hunt until tarantula caught

Leave a Comment