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Species Pepsis menechma - Elegant Tarantula-hawk Wasp

Tarantula Hawk? - Pepsis menechma Black and Orange Wasp - Pepsis menechma Tarantula Hawk - Pepsis menechma - female Tarantula Hawk - Pepsis menechma - male Curated Pepsis specimen from CAS collection - Pepsis menechma - female Elegant Tarantula Hawk - Pepsis menechma Tarantula Hawk on flowers - Pepsis menechma Entypus unifasciatus? - Pepsis menechma
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 (Tarantula-hawk Wasps and Allies)
Genus Pepsis (Tarantula-hawk Wasps)
Species menechma (Elegant Tarantula-hawk Wasp)
Other Common Names
Elegant Tarantula Hawk (coinage based on Latin name, and common name for Pepsis, though this species may not prey on tarantulas)
Synonyms and other taxonomic changes
Pepsis menechma Lepeletier, 1845
Pepsis elegans Lepeletier, 1845
Pepsis cerberus Lucas, 1895
Pepsis novitia Banks, 1921
(...and many more)
[Note: The old names Pepsis elegans and Pepsis cerberus were synonymized under Pepsis menechma in 2005...see pg. 131 in Part 3 of Vardy(1).]
Explanation of Names
Meaning of species name menechma is a bit obscure. Lepeletier (BHL link) called it, in French, Pepsis Menechme. A French Dictionary gives, with English translations by Google:
ménechme (nominal): gémeau, jumeau (both meaning twin), sosie (doppelgänger).
This is a reference to the Roman comedy, based on a Greek original, The Menaechmi Twins. Seems that Lepeletier was referring to the similarity of menechma to the species he discussed immediately preceding, luteicornis.
Circa 20-25 mm. A specimen from North Carolina measured 22 mm body length. Vardy (2005), p. 133, gives body lengths: 18-26 mm (male), 16-28 mm (female).
The western "cerberus" form is orange-winged (dark-bordered), with antennae entirely dark (black to dark brown).
The eastern "elegans" form is a large, blue-black wasp with orange antennae and wings black...likely mimicked by an ichneumonid wasp, Thyreodon atricolor:

Rarely encountered is a third form, once known by the name "P. novitia", with orange wings and antennae mostly dark...with a few apical segments orange.
The orange-winged "cerberus" form is recorded from Arizona, Texas, and Kansas, as well as south into Mexico.(2)
The all black "elegans" form ranges throughout the eastern and central United States (from PA west to KS, and south to FL and TX)(2). It is apparently the only Pepsis in the east (outside possible strays of P. marginata and P. saphirus from the West Indies).
Summer-early fall. June-September (North Carolina) (3).
Adults take nectar.
Life Cycle
Females presumably deposit eggs to develop as parasitoids on large spiders, though not necessarily always tarantulas since much of this species' range lies east of that of our native tarantulas (which occur west of the Mississippi(4)). The more easterly populations of P. menenchma (i.e. "P. elegans") may prey on trapdoor spiders (cf. 2nd sentence here, from Ebeling's 1975 "Urban Entomology" from the Univ. California, Riverside, which states that Pepsis prey on "trapdoor spiders and tarantulas").
Vardy (2005) states that there are no prey records for Pepsis menechma and closely-related species.
Kurczewski et al. (2020) note that species in this group from the southwest US and Mexico prey on Hogna carolinensis (Lycosidae).
Pepsis elegans and Pepsis cerberus (its Western counterpart) were recently synonymized under the name Pepsis menechma (by Vardy(1) in 2005).
Original description of Pepsis menechma:
Histoire naturelle des insectes. Hyménoptères, volume 3, p. 481 BHL link
See Also
Entypus, a related genus of large Spider Wasps. See also the ichneumonid, Thyreodon atricolor.
Print References
Hurd, Paul, 1952. Revision of the Neartic Species of the Pompilid Genus Pepsis(2). AMNH Bulletin, 98(4). (Reference from Jeff Hollenbeck.)
Kurczewski FE, et al. New and unusual host records for North American and South American spider wasps (Hymenoptera: Pompilidae). Zootaxa. 2020 Dec 7;4891(1):zootaxa.4891.1.1. doi: 10.11646/zootaxa.4891.1.1. PMID: 33311100.
Vardy, C.R. The New World tarantula-hawk wasp genus Pepsis Fabricius (Hymenoptera: Pompilidae). Part 3. The P. inclyta to P. auriguttata-groups. Zool. Med., Leiden 79 (5), 16.xii.2005, 1-305, figs 1-689.— ISSN 0024-1652(link)
Internet References
North Carolina State University Entomology Collection--55 pinned, including specimens from that state.
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.Insects of North Carolina
C.S. Brimley. 1938. North Carolina Department of Agriculture.