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Photo#26646
Elegant Tarantula Hawk - Pepsis menechma - female

Elegant Tarantula Hawk - Pepsis menechma - Female
Near Fayetteville Road and Hwy 54, Durham County, North Carolina, USA
August 2, 2005
Size: 25-30 mm
This very large Spider Wasp (Pompilidae) was taking nectar on cultivated Clethra. A tough family, but seems like somebody might recognize it given the bright orange antennae and the large size (25-30 mm, estimated).

It reminds me of a Pepsis, and Pepsis elegans is apparently recorded from North Carolina. Descriptions I've seen of that species mention orange wings, which this does not have. Of course, there are lots of other genera in the family.

(That's the verdict--see discussion.)

I like the name "Elegant Tarantula Hawk", even if this does not prey on tarantulas--that is a well-known common name for Pepsis.

Images of this individual: tag all
Elegant Tarantula Hawk - Pepsis menechma - female Elegant Tarantula Hawk - Pepsis menechma - female

Pepsis menechma
Pepsis elegans and its western counterpart Pepsis cerberus have been synonymized under Pepsis menechma.

Pepsis elegans.
I'm pretty sure this IS Pepsis elegans. If I recall correctly from my Townes key to Pepsinae, there are two subspecies, one of them dark-winged. That is what I determined my Missouri specimens to be anyway (though I can't profess to be a great expert). What puzzles me is that there are no tarantulas in North Carolina (that I'm aware of), so what are they preying on?!

 
Wasp
There are essentially no Tarantulas after you cross the Mississippi and head east. Though there is one introduced species in Florida. There is a single specimen of Pepsis elegans in the NC State collection listed online. Apparently Pepsis wander into the central Gulf Coast on a fairly regular basis. I can't tell if that is a male or not in the photo. I assume the males might wander more since sex and flowers is the only work they have. But still I bet that Pepsis in NC are fairly rare at this time of year. All three Entypus species occur in NC but I don't know if they are wing color variable. I assume they are for now. They can also be formidably large. Hemipepsis does not occur there in NC.

 
Records for Pepsis elegans and Entypus in NC
Herschel, I think you might be misreading that North Carolina State University Entomology Collection entry for Pepsis. They list 55 specimens, with at least one from North Carolina--they don't break out individual entries--too bad. I've looked at these collections a lot, and usually if there are that many specimens of a species, it is common in this state. Also, the Brimleys, Insects of North Carolina, who gathered much of that collection, list P. elegans as "state-wide, June-September", p. 423. (1) That entry means it is a common species--they list individual collection localities for uncommon species.

They must be preying on some spider other than tarantulas. We have plenty of big Lycosids and trapdoor spiders. Maybe that's what the larvae eat.

Now for Entypus. North Carolina State Univ. Collections lists three species of Entypus, for the state, E. fulvicornis (70 spec.) and unifasciatus (21 spec.) being pretty common. These are listed by the Brimleys, p. 432, under Cryptocheilus, also with many specimens, fulvicornis ranks a "state-wide". (I did not have access to Brimley when I posted the images earlier.)

A puzzle. I presume you've read each other's comments--thanks for the input! The pruinose body on this individual reminds me of Pepsis I've seen in Arizona, for what that's worth.

Patrick Coin
Durham, North Carolina

 
A key, if anybody can interpret
Well, I'm way beyond my depth and that response was getting too long. I found a Key to the New World Genera of Pepsinae. Here are the, I think, appropriate couplets:

5. Marginal cell separated apically from the costal margin of the wing, so that the lip of the cell is rounded; second cubital cell receiving the second recurrent vein before its basal 0.33; large or very large species…---> Pepsis Fabricius

- Marginal cell apically adjacent to the costal margin of the wing, so that the tip of the cell ia pointed or subtruncate; second cubital cell receiving the second recurrent vein beyond its basal 0.4---> USA and Central American (Couplet 6)

(Couplet 6 leads to 7, 8, and 9, which contains Entypus, so the two genera can be separated at couplet 5, I guess. )

Well, I have other photos, in case they show the wings better--I don't understand which wing cells to look at. If anybody cares to take a stab, I'd be happy.

Patrick Coin
Durham, North Carolina

 
Key
Yes, I have that key linked on my Pompilid list. And thanks, I did read the specimen number wrong. That makes this P. elegans I bet as Eric said. And they are supposed to have that lustrous indescribable blue-purple. It is a different skill altogether to remove trap-door spiders from their tunnels that taking on Tarantulas. Another pider genera that I can't remember does take trap-doors. I don't know about this P elegans though.

Unfortunately Evans did not do Pepsinae in his three volume study in 1951. I have been unable to obtain the 1966 Evans monograph which may have them. That wing character however will be impossible to see in these dark winged creatures unless you have it pinned in your office.

 
OK, verdict Pepsis elegans
OK, thanks. You two are way ahead of me. I'll move this to Pepsis elegans.

Patrick Coin
Durham, North Carolina

 
Female, too:-)
This is definitely a female. I collected a pair in Missouri and the males have very long, straight antennae, as do most of the male Pepsis and Hemipepsis. Forgot about trapdoor spiders as a potential prey item:-) Thank you so much for the link to the key, too!

 
Thanks, Trapdoors
I was just thinking of large spiders that I've seen, I was not thinking about the biology. We have plenty of large spiders that run around in the open, such as wolf spiders.

I visited that same site today and did not see the wasp. I'll have to look more carefully for this species--I may have been mistaking it for its likely mimic, Gnamptopetla obsindator, or however it is spelled.

Patrick Coin
Durham, North Carolina

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