Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Ant that Ain't

Velvet Ant- Click to enlarge
I found this critter running rapidly through the cropped grass and weeds by our swimming hole.  The consensus among my young naturalists was "Wow, look at that ant!" and they were partially correct.  It is a velvet ant, an insect that "ain't an ant."

Velvet-ants are solitary wasps, characterized by their dense hair in vivid shades of red, orange or yellow.  The males have wings and usually have different coloration from the wingless females.  They differ from ants by having a thicker pedicel, the connection between abdomen and thorax.  Adults feed on nectar and water.

I chased this swift creature for several minutes before I was able to get it to run into a zip lock bag.  Due to its formidable appearance, I was never tempted to touch it during the chase, a wise decision.  Velvet-ants are considered to have the most painful sting of any insect in North America.  This particular species is called a Cow Killer, describing the supposed strength of its sting.

The female Cow Killer (Dasymutilla occidentalis) searches the open ground for bumblebee larva.  Once found, it eats a hole through the cocoon and drops a single egg in each bumblebee brood chamber.  Its larva will feed on the bumblebee larva and then pupate in the chamber that the bumblebee had created for it.   Finally it emerges as a warm and fuzzy "ant" - well maybe not so warm.

Detailed information is at this Michigan Entomological Society site.


  1. I never even knew this critter existed. I like to see what lurks in other places far from my little corner. Such interesting posts in this blog . Thank you.

  2. Ironic you should highlight this topic - I was just playing with my two pet velvet ants "Snuggles" and "Fifi"!

  3. Bob,

    These ARE truly beautiful bugs. IF I remember correctly, they're actually a wasp species.