The Milkweed Visitors, Part 1

tarantula hawk (pepsis) on asclepias subulata

Bloom season is over for now for Asclepias subulata, the desert milkweed.  But I collected a lot of pictures of the small (and not-so-small!) creatures that flocked to it while it flowered.  Though I will only put up a handful of the pictures, I'm going to divide them into two different posts.  


For today, here are the wasps and such.  

small wasp on desert milkweed (asclepias subulata)

Some, such as these with the bright, rust-colored abdomen, were quite small.  I don't know what type this is, but they were quiet little wasps.

small wasp on desert milkweed (asclepias subulata)

This little one, all black, was not much larger.

small wasp on desert milkweed (asclepias subulata)

Then there were these heavier-bodied hornet types.

hornet on desert milkweed (asclepias subulata)

And finally, most intimidating, but equally fascinating, the tarantula hawks (Pepsis sp.) staked out a claim on the flowers.  With their reputation for a painful sting, I approached nervously and never got too close; but the few I've photographed have been very placid and far more intent on milkweed nectar than anything else, though early in the summer they patrolled the area around the plant in a most emphatic manner!

tarantula hawk (pepsis) on asclepias subulata

Though I hope never to be stung by one, I think they are surprisingly beautiful, with their bright, rusty wings, coal black heads, and curling antennae.

tarantula hawk (pepsis) on asclepias subulata

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Comments: 10
  • #1

    Kris P (Thursday, 26 October 2017 15:09)

    The tarantula hawk is new to me but interesting, at least from the safe distance of the blogosphere. My Asclepias cancellata is finally blooming but the only visitors I've spied have been bees and a crab spider.

  • #2

    Diana Studer (Thursday, 26 October 2017 18:15)

    I wonder if we get tarantula hawks? It looks familiar.

  • #3

    Amy@smallsunnygarden (Friday, 27 October 2017 12:10)

    Kris - I had to look up A. cancellata; it looks a good deal denser and more showy than A. subulata, which is maybe not surprising considering their origins. It took a long time for butterflies to show up on mine; I'm hoping for better butterfly results as the plant matures.

  • #4

    Amy@smallsunnygarden (Friday, 27 October 2017 12:19)

    Diana - A very cursory look online indicates there are similar wasps out your way, though they are probably hemipepsis species rather than pepsis, which appears to be limited to the New World. As the difference is determined by wing venation patterns, they must be quite similar otherwise! Here is a picture of an all-black Hemipepsis wasp at Kruger National Park (courtesy of Wikipedia):

  • #5

    Cathy (Friday, 27 October 2017 17:48)

    Fascinating to see what insects you have visiting Amy. I'm not sure I like the sound of the tarantula hawk - the name alone inspires caution!

  • #6

    Marcelo (Saturday, 28 October 2017 00:01)

    Amy, I love milkweeds and I wish I had these plants again in my garden, they are beautiful and attract the monarch butterflies and their caterpillars. There are those spider hunting wasps down here in Argentina too and they reportedly have a very painful sting. Have a nice weekend!

  • #7

    Brian Skeys (Sunday, 29 October 2017 04:13)

    The milkweed must be an important plant for the diversity of life in your area by supporting such a wide variety of insect species.

  • #8

    Amy@smallsunnygarden (Sunday, 29 October 2017 10:47)

    Cathy - Yes, I kept at a distance while photographing! Though I think the tarantula hawk in the pictures was a male. Because of the completely different ecosystem, we get some creatures very different to what I've known in more temperate parts of the US, so it's difficult not to get intrigued watching them. ;-)

  • #9

    Amy@smallsunnygarden (Sunday, 29 October 2017 11:07)

    Marcelo - I really planted it specifically for the Monarchs... and haven't seen one on it yet! I have seen Viceroys, however, which made me very happy! Fortunately the tarantula hawks haven't been aggressive. I know you are right about the sting - said to be second only to the bullet ant. :/ The wasps must be fairly successful hunters, as I've seen very few tarantulas since we moved in. Thanks for coming by - hope you have a wonderful week! :)

  • #10

    Amy@smallsunnygarden (Sunday, 29 October 2017 11:11)

    Brian - It's been surprising how the various creatures flock to the milkweed when in bloom. I have plenty of other good nectar-bearing plants, but this rugged wildflower seems to lure the bee and wasp clan like nothing else I've planted.