NEW ORLEANS — Thumb-length wasps called tarantula hawks are on display at the insectarium in New Orleans.

They’re big, beautiful and placid — except when a female is after a tarantula to feed its young, says Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium curator Zack Lemann.

The iridescent blue-black insects with orange or blue-black wings are the largest members of the spider wasp family, with one species growing up to 2 inches (5 centimeters) long.

“The color is almost a deeper version of the morpho butterfly — the metallic blue ones that everybody likes,” he said. “It’s funny — when you say ‘butterfly,’ people immediately start to swoon: the moving eye-candy of the insect world. Nobody thinks that about wasps. But I think they’re beautiful.”

The dozen or so at the insectarium are from two or three species. These wasps all were collected in Arizona, but include the species that’s New Mexico’s state insect , Lemann said.

Although they’re solitary in nature, “you can put tons of them together and they don’t mind at all,” he said.

Lemann said their sting is said to be among the insect world’s most painful, but he moves objects in their display case without danger.

A female wasp will lure a tarantula out of its den, fight and paralyze it, lay an egg on its back, then dig a nest and bury the spider and its new burden. After the baby wasp hatches, it will feed on the big spider.

They’re being shown through in the insectarium’s Metamorphosis Lab.

“If they have normal adult lives, we should have them through October,” Lemann said.

Author photo
JANET McCONNAUGHEY
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