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Genus Pepsis - Tarantula Hawks

Pepsis pallidolimbata - female Tarantula Hawk - Pepsis menechma - female Tarantula hawk on the hunt - Pepsis thisbe - female Reality Check: Pepsi mildei, right? - Pepsis mildei - female Tarantula Hawk? - Pepsis Tarantula Hawk - Pepsis grossa - male Tarantula Hawk? - Pepsis thisbe - female Dark blue wasp - Pepsis
Classification
Kingdom Animalia (Animals)
Phylum Arthropoda (Arthropods)
Subphylum Hexapoda (Hexapods)
Class Insecta (Insects)
Order Hymenoptera (Ants, Bees, Wasps and Sawflies)
No Taxon (Aculeata - Ants, Bees and Stinging Wasps)
Superfamily Pompiloidea (Spider Wasps, Velvet Ants and allies)
Family Pompilidae (Spider Wasps)
Subfamily Pepsinae
Tribe Pepsini
Genus Pepsis (Tarantula Hawks)
Other Common Names
Tarantula Wasps
Synonyms and other taxonomic changes
A number of former species names have been synonymized under new names in the most recent revision of the genus by Vardy(1)(2002-5). Listed below are the former names...as they appeared in main earlier references by Hurd(2)(1952), Townes(3)(1957), Krombein(4)(1979) and others...followed by their current names, and where the taxa are discussed in the three-part work of Vardy(1):
"P. angustimarginata" = P. basifusca , see Part 3: p. 141 "P. arizonica" = P. cassiope, see Part 2: p. 92 "P. azteca"= P. sommeri, see Part 3: p. 96 "P. cerberus" = P. menechma, see Part 3: p. 131 "P. elegans" = P. menechma, see Part 3: p. 131 "P. formosa" = P. grossa, see Part 2: p. 58"P. saphirus" = P. ruficornis, see Part 3: p. 232 "P. venusta" = P. terminata, see Part 2: p. 68
Explanation of Names
Author: Fabricius
Numbers
18 spp. in our area(5)
Size
14-40 (50?) mm
Identification
Large "metallic-sheened" blue-black to greenish wasps, most with orange wings. Some species have orange antennae. Females have curled antennae, males straight. Among the largest and most easily recognized genera of spider wasps, only Hemipepsis is easily confused, but orange-winged individuals of Entypus are superficially similar. This genus can be recognized by the characters given below:
Large size, to 40 mm+. With blue, blue-green, or blue-violet iridescence. Only rarely does Hemipepsis have iridescence and most in that genus lack it completely, or if it is present it is very vague. Only rarely does Entypus reach the size listed above.
Wing ventaion is very important for identification of Pepsis especially distinction between Pepsis and Hemipepsis. Those characters are as follows:
Marginal cell apically separated from the costal margin, making that cell appear very rounded
First recurrent vein meeting the second submarginal cell at its basal third, thus making the first discoidal cell rather short and rounded. In Hemipepsis the first recurrent vein meets the second submarginal cell at its apical one-third or is occasionally interstitial with the second transervse cubital vein, thus making the first discoidal cell rather long and pointed
Subcircular irregularity at the base of the first discoidal cell not as developed as in Hemipepsis
Pulvillar pad and comb in Pepsis is rather weak, the pulvillar pad about half as wide as the apical tarsal segment. The pulvillar comb consists of eight to ten weak setulae. In Hemipepsis this character is well developed with a large pulvillar pad that is approximately three-quarters the width of the apical tarsal segment and the puvillar comb that consists of 14-40 strong setulae.
Hemipepsis are often identifiable from photographs to species, but Pepsis are more difficult. Although it is often possible to narrow down the choices to groups of similar species, it is often impossible to assign a species name with certainty. An extensive knowledge of local fauna helps, as well as extensive work with museum specimens. Despite the large size of members of this genus many photographs will likely remain unidentified, as some of the species are very similar.
Range
Most our species are found in the southwest US, east to Kansas. Only three species occur in the east, the most common and wide-ranging one being P. menechma...the other two, P. marginata and P. ruficornis (= saphirus), have been recorded from south Florida (possibly as accidentals from the West Indies?). The genus also extends far south into neotropics, where it is much more speciose.
Habitat
Open areas, deserts
Season
Summer
Food
Larvae feed on tarantula and some other large spiders. Adults take nectar, and are particularly fond of milkweed (genus Asclepias).
Life Cycle
Mating takes place on flowers, or sometimes near a "hilltop", such as a large cactus, defended by the male. Females seek out tarantula burrows, paralyze them, and bury it in a burrow, laying a single egg. Larvae feed on the paralyzed spider.
Remarks
Genera Pepsis and Hemipepsis have similar biology and can be very difficult to distinguish in the field (but see "See Also" below). They are discussed here together under Pepsis, though there is a brief account for Hemipepsis.
These wasps are reputed to have a very powerful sting, though they are not aggressive.
See Also
The related Spider Wasp genera, Hemipepsis and Entypus, are also quite large and can look very similar to Pepsis. These three genera are best distinguished by details of wing venation. For details, see the posts thumbnailed below:
       
Print References
Description, illustrations of P. mildei & P. formosa(6)
Revision of the Neartic species(2)
Internet References
Fact sheets [1], [2]
Works Cited
1.The New World tarantula-hawk wasp genus Pepsis Fabricius (Hymenoptera: Pompilidae).
C. R. Vardy. 2005. Zoologische Verhandelingen / Zoologische Mededelingen.
2.Revision of the Nearctic species of the Pompilid genus Pepsis (Hymenoptera, Pompilidae)
Paul D. Hurd. 1952. American Museum of Natural History, New York.
3.Nearctic Wasps of the Subfamilies Pepsinae and Ceropalinae
Henry K. Townes. 1957. Smithsonian Institute Press (Bulletin 209).
4.Catalog of Hymenoptera in America North of Mexico
Karl V. Krombein, Paul D. Hurd, Jr., David R. Smith, and B. D. Burks. 1979. Smithsonian Institution Press.
5.American Insects: A Handbook of the Insects of America North of Mexico
Ross H. Arnett. 2000. CRC Press.
6.The Common Insects of North America
Lester A. Swan, Charles S. Papp. 1972. Harper & Row.