Year End Countdown # 8 — Pepsis On Milkweed
Reminder: You can enlarge any of the photos in this blog by clicking on it. Click again for a full-screen image.
Image # 8 on my countdown of favorite photos is one that I made back in May of this year, just as the weather was beginning to get really hot in southern Arizona. It depicts a pepsis wasp, popularly known as a “Tarantula Hawk.”
Pepsis Wasps are solitary, meaning that they do not live in colonies like paper wasps or honeybees. They get their nickname “Tarantula Hawk” from the fact that the females of some pepsis wasp species hunt tarantulas to serve as food for their offspring. These wasps are huge with individuals of some species approaching two inches in length. Female pepsis wasps have stings that are almost legendarily potent.
I found this wasp and several other pepsis wasps drinking nectar from the flowers of a milkweed plant. Although female pepsis wasps hunt tarantulas, both males and females of the species subsist on plant nectar. The individual depicted here is a male. I know that because of his extra-long antennae that are curved like a handlebar mustache. Female pepsis wasps have shorter, straight antennae. Male pepsis wasps, unlike the females, are stingless. They live a carefree life, drinking plant nectar and looking for love.
I love this photo for more than one reason. First, I think that pepsis wasps are extraordinarily beautiful and I am always pleased when I can get a good image of one. I also like the simplicity of this image. There are really only four colors represented here aside from the gray background: the wasp’s cobalt blue body and burnt orange wings, and the green and cream-colored flower. It’s often hard when photographing in nature to get images that are free of clutter, so I really appreciate it when I can. Finally, I like this image because it was so difficult to make. Pepsis wasps have extremely shiny bodies that reflect light easily. Getting a photograph of one that isn’t ruined by hot spots and blown highlights is extremely hard to do. I must have made more than 100 images of this and other wasps before I got one that I really liked.
Image made with a Canon 5Diii, 180 f3.5L Macro Lens assisted by Canon 600EX-RT Speedlite, M setting, ISO 200, f11 @ 1/160.