03 August 2013

Red Velvet Ant is called Cow Killer!

Dasymutilla occidentalis is the Red Velvet Ant, also called Cow Killer and guess what, they are actually wasps and the female cannot fly.

The females have no wings, are covered with that fuzzy hair and are shaped like ants. In our yard they look about an inch long - the largest of the red ants.

The females are loners and they wander around our yard in the hot, dry months. They prefer to be left alone and will not sting unless they are threatened. They also squeak when threatened.

The males have wings and cannot sting.

To lay eggs, the females dig into the nests of ground bees, eat a hole in their cocoon, and then lays eggs on the bee larva. Immature velvet ants eat the bee larva and then form a pupa.

Velvet Ant lifecycle

Some summers they are everywhere but this year has been so much cooler that there are fewer than usual.

Gardeners do not have to try to control them since they are not a problem to plants but children can be attracted to their red, fuzzy bodies and should be instructed to avoid them. Shoes have to be worn when Red Velvet Ants are around.

The Cow Killer name comes from how painful the sting is, not that they actually sting or harm cows.

There are other Velvet Ants in the Mutillidae family. The color of the hair determines the name and it can be red, black, white, silver and gold.

The Arizona-Sonora  Desert Museum offers a colorful description ..."Satan’s velvet ant, which is black with a yellowish-white furry abdomen. The glorious velvet ant (D. gloriosa) is a long-haired, totally white velvet ant that looks like a creosote bush seed on legs."
and "The earliest known velvet ants come from 25-to-40 million year old amber found in the Dominican Republic."


The illustration above right shows just how different the male and females look.

Adult Velvet Ants are active from Apr. to Nov., eating nectar and hiding under garden litter when needed. They mate while flying.

Velvet Ants (5,000 species) live all over the world, mainly in the tropics. They are most common in the desert so 150 species live in the U.S. southwest, Canada and Mexico (Desert USA.com). For more information see Dr. Kaae's website at
http://drkaae.com/InsectCivilization/assets/Chapter_18_Bees_Wasps_and_Ants.htm


2 comments:

K. Henderson said...

I remember my first encounter with one. So pretty , so soft looking. I had to touch her. OUCH!!

Martha Stoodley said...

I've never touched one but now I know to leave them alone.
Not as many this year because our weather hasn't been as hot and dry as it was.
Ouch indeed!