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These wasps are often called spider wasps (in South America, species may be referred to as marabunta or marimbondo, though these names can be also applied to any very large stinging wasps. The family is cosmopolitan, with about 4,211 species in 4 subfamilies. All are solitary, and most capture and paralyze prey, but members of the subfamily Ceropalinae are cleptoparasitoids of other pompilids, or ectoparasitoids of living spiders.
Spider wasps are usually separated from other vespoid wasps in having a transverse groove dividing the mesopleuron (the mesepisternal sclerite, a region on the side of middle segment of the thorax above the point where the legs join) into halves. Like other Vespoidea they have the antenna with 10 flagellomeres in the female and 11 in the male. Most Pompilidae have the inner margin of the eye straight. The hind wings do not possess a distinct claval lobe but they have a clear jugal lobe. The hind leg has a tibial spur with a tuft or row of fine hairs. The legs are long and thin with the tips of the tibia (metatibia) long enough to extend beyond the tip of the abdomen (metasoma). Sexual dimorphism is not distinct although females are usually larger than the males, with coloring and wing appearance varying greatly among the many species, while black is the most common, with contrasting aposematic markings of orange, red, yellow, or white also being fairly common.
These insects are long-legged, solitary wasps that use a single spider as a host for feeding their larvae. They paralyze the spider with a venomous sting. Once paralyzed, the spider is transported to a nest. A single egg is laid on the abdomen of the spider, and the nest or burrow is closed.
The size of the host may influence whether the wasp will lay an egg that will develop as a male, or an egg that will develop into a female. Larger prey yield the (larger) females. Complex adult behavior can then occur, such as spreading soil or inspecting the area, leaving the nest site hidden. When the wasp larva hatches it begins to feed on the still-living spider. After consuming the edible parts of the spider, the larva spins a silk cocoon and pupates – usually emerging as an adult the following summer. Some ceropalines lay the egg on a still-active spider, where it feeds externally on hemolymph. After the spider dies the mature wasp larva will pupate.
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