Orangus Insectus?
January 21, 2008 8:52 AM   Subscribe

Please help me find the name of the horrifying insect that scared me as a child.

There have been a lot of horrifying insect threads lately. So I am reminded of the Flying Orange Scary Thing, as my sis and I used to call it. What is its scientific name? Here are some details:

The climate was dry and hot (Central California during the summer, about 90-100 degrees). It was orange and black colored. It looked like a dragonfly on steroids. It was surprisingly aggressive- it would chase us away from its home. Its home was near the garage- I couldn't tell if it lived in a hole in the ground, or in a tree. It would fly at head level, and make a loud buzzing noise. That's all I remember.
posted by proj08 to Science & Nature (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Was it perhaps a spider wasp? (Warning: It's dragging away a dead Huntsman spider in this picture. Skeeves me out too much to look at it, but YMMV.)
posted by lizzicide at 9:04 AM on January 21, 2008

Here's a poster of dragonflies of California. Maybe it was one of those?
posted by L. Fitzgerald Sjoberg at 9:05 AM on January 21, 2008

Something like this?
posted by 517 at 9:07 AM on January 21, 2008

Probably one of these paper wasps, which are bright orange in Southern and Central California.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:46 AM on January 21, 2008

Update: At least 2.5 inches long- conservative estimate. Lizzicide, I'm tempted to say you have the best answer, because that's definitely the right shade of orange, but I don't know if the thing in your picture lives in CA.
posted by proj08 at 10:00 AM on January 21, 2008

Was it an assassin bug?
posted by wsg at 10:51 AM on January 21, 2008

i am also really interested in answers to this.

i grew up in the desert of west texas, and i had an encounter with a bug like you described. it looked a lot like the spider wasp lizzicide pointed out, but my (quite possible inaccurate) memory says that only the wings were that bright safety orange. the rest was a velvety black. it was such a pretty, brightly colored bug, so unlike other bugs in the desert that i normally saw. it was definitely not the size of any wasp taht i ever saw in person, maybe 2 to 2.5 inches. and i never saw one of those bugs again.

it was hanging out at the flowers of a 6' by 6' patch of prickly pear we had in the backyard, if that matters.
posted by gcat at 12:01 PM on January 21, 2008

I am in Arizona, and we have "Tarantula Hawks" here. It sounds like what you are describing. They eat spiders if my memory serves me... they lay eggs inside of tarantulas and when those eggs hatch they eat them from inside out. They are very aggressive.

Someone told me they are called Cow Killers in other parts of the country. ???

Photo Here
Good Info Here
posted by phytage at 12:53 PM on January 21, 2008

Did it buzz? Cow Killers (which I don't think is the same thing as a Tarantula Hawk but looks similar) make a loud noise, ime.

Or was it, by chance, shaped like a flying rock with a flying style like a drunken zeppelin? Because there are orange-ish Junebugs in SoCo and they are huge and quite scary and will chase you (they will also fly directly into your forehead with a loud thunk and leave a big lump)
posted by fshgrl at 1:04 PM on January 21, 2008

Based on the behavior alone, it's a good bet it was a wasp. Since you want Latin names, that's in the order Hymenoptera, suborder Apocrita (which includes ants and bees), and family Pompilidae. From the size and color, it was likely to be a representative of the Genus Pepsis, or Tarantula Hawk as phytage said. Maybe a female, since they tend to be larger in wasps. You might be able to find the exact species from one of the pictures, but that might be difficult.
posted by zennie at 1:23 PM on January 21, 2008

Thanks everyone. I think it was indeed a Spider Wasp.
When my sister checks her email she's going to see Lizzicide's picture and be like "ZOMG IT'S HIM!"
posted by proj08 at 1:34 PM on January 21, 2008

The presence of milkweed (and probably other 'butterfly' plants) nearby could increase the odds of the Flying Orange Scary Thing having been a tarantula hawk, since the links they like that. I would wager that it would take a larger species of wasp to go after the larger species of tarantula, so having big tarantulas might be another indication.
posted by zennie at 1:45 PM on January 21, 2008

I'm glad you posted the question because it helped me figure out that the Horrible Immortal Verse-Inspiring Killer Bee I encountered as a kid was Sphecius speciosus... the "Cicada Killer." (I was seven, and it was already dead on the side of the road. I re-killed the little beast. A couple times. One can never be too sure.)
posted by zennie at 2:23 PM on January 21, 2008

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