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Genus Pepsis - Tarantula-hawk Wasps

Red-winged Pepsis sp. - Pepsis Maverick tarantula hawk with orange antennae - Pepsis mildei - male Tarantula hawk on the hunt - Pepsis thisbe - female Tarantula Hawk on Anise/Fennel - Pepsis thisbe - male Baja Pepsis - Pepsis pallidolimbata - male Pepsis - mildei ? grossa ? - Pepsis Tarantula hawk wasp dragging tarantula - Pepsis mildei - female Pepsis grossa? - Pepsis - female
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)
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 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
Pepsis Fabricius, 1804
14 spp. in our area arranged into 7 species groups(1)(4); 133 total described species in 19 species groups across the Americas(1)

1. P. aquila: s. AZ & NM
2. P. basifusca: TX north to KS, west to s. CA
3. P. cassiope: AZ, CA, & TX
4. P. chrysothemis: TX & OK west to CA
5. P. grossa: MO, TX, & KS west to AZ, NM, NV, & CA
6. P. marginata: s. FL
7. P. menechma: PA west to KS, south to FL & TX
8. P. mexicana: TX to s. CA
9. P. mildei: TX north to KS, west to CA
10. P. pallidolimbata: TX, OK, & KS west to s. CA
11. P. ruficornis: s. FL
12. P. sommeri: s. TX
13. P. terminata: s. AZ
14. P. thisbe: TX north to NE, west to CA

rubra group: P. chrysothemis, P. mexicana, P. pallidolimbata, P. thisbe
grossa group: P. grossa
elevata group: P. aquila, P. marginata, P. terminata
brevicornis group: P. cassiope
inclyta group: P. sommeri
menechma group: P. basifusca, P. menechma
ruficornis group: P. mildei, P. ruficornis
14-40 (50?) mm
Large "metallic-sheened" blue-black to greenish wasps, most with orange wings. Some species have orange antennae. Typically, females hold their antennae curled (in an arc of a half-circle or more), while males hold theirs more 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 venation 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.
Mostly 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.
Open areas, deserts
mostly Apr-Nov in sw US (BG data)
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.
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(5)
Revision of the Neartic species in Hurd (1952)(2)
Hurd, Paul D. (1948). Systematics of the California species of the genus Pepsis Fabricius (Hymenoptera; Pompilidae). Univ. California Publ. Ent., vol. 8, pp. 123-150, 4 figs.
Internet References
Fact sheet from DesertUSA website.
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.The Common Insects of North America
Lester A. Swan, Charles S. Papp. 1972. Harper & Row.