Thursday, August 07, 2008

Red Velvet Ant Invasion This Season But Beautiful and Beneficial

Common Name: Red velvet ant or "cow killer" Scientific Name: Dasymutilla occidentalis (Linnaeus) Order: Hymenoptera Description: These insects are wasps, not ants. Females are wingless and covered with dense hair, superficially resembling ants. The red velvet-ant is the largest velvet-ant species, reaching about 3/4 inch in length. They are black overall with patches of dense orange-red hair on the thorax and abdomen. Males are similar but have wings and can not sting. Several other species of velvet ants are common in Texas, including the gray velvet ant or thistle down mutillid, Dasymutilla beutenmulleri, and D. fulvohirta. Most are solitary parasites of immature wasps (Vespidae and Sphecidae), solitary bees and some other insects such as beetles and flies. Winged males can be confused with other Hymenoptera. Adults of the tiphiid wasp, Myzinum sp. (Hymenoptera: Tiphiidae) are black and yellow, 3/4 inch long . They can occur in large numbers, sometimes on flowers of landscape plants. Larvae are parasites of white grubs (Coleoptera: Scarabeidae). Life Cycle: Females seek the immature stages of ground-nesting bees, digging to the nesting chambers and eating a hole through the cocoon. She deposits and egg on the host larva, which soon hatches into a white legless grub. The immature velvet-ant eats the host larva, developing through several larval stages before forming a pupa. Habitat, Food Source(s), Damage: Mouthparts are for chewing. Lone females can be found crawling on the ground, particularly in open sandy areas. Adults are most common during the warm summer months. Larvae are solitary, external parasites of developing bumble bees. Pest Status: The common name, "cow killer," is thought to describe the painful sting these insects can inflict to man and animals, although it is doubtful that many cows are actually stung.

21 comments:

Aunt Debbi/kurts mom said...

The first time I saw one, I did not think it was real. Great pictures.

Jan said...

I remember seeing these beautiful insects when I was a child, but I have not seen one in years. Thanks for bringing back a nice memory.

Jan
Always Growing

Jon said...

Jan and Debbi....thanks for dropping by. When I was a child I was fascinated by these huge "ants" and would try to catch them. I guess I never did because I would have remembered their terrible sting! Country folks used to call them "cow killers" because they thought their stings were lethal.
Jon on 8-8-08

Phillip said...

I've never seen one of these personally but I did learn about them in the Master Gardener class I took. They are very pretty.

ginger said...

wow, interesting post! I had no idea these are actually wasps!

Terry Thornton said...

JON, Thanks for the lesson on "cow ants" --- I've noticed three or four on my patio over the past couple of weeks. Interesting "ants" --- and, yes, I've heard all my life that a sting from one is strong enough to kill a cow!
Terry Thornton
Fulton, Mississippi
HILL COUNTRY MONROE COUNTY MISSISSIPPI

Jean said...

I'm so glad I found your blog. I live in northern Louisiana and have been looking for bloggers in the area. And now I know what insect I saw a couple weeks ago! Thanks for the great information.

Anonymous said...

I got bit or stung by one of these things last night while lying on my couch. Needless to say, I'm not a big fan of the critters. Thankfully, it wasn't a very big one.

Clay
Georgia

Michael Fox said...

My family and I saw some of these in the Tenn. Mountains in a road cut next to a church. Took photos and captured on e in a bottle for closer observation before turning loose. Very Beautiful.

jessica said...

Thanks for sharing with us.. Nice blog..


___________________
Jessica
Get 28 movie channels for 3 months free

Richard said...

Saw one of these for the first time today when I was mowing our yard. Called my wife to ask what it was. Had no idea it was a wasp. Very pretty.

Anonymous said...

Yes I caught one yesterday! I saw it and was like Man! So I decided to research it and I found your blog. The are actually Wingless wasps!

Anonymous said...

i live in garland tx and found one of these red velvet ants i had never seen one before

Anonymous said...

Just saw one climbing along the top of a retaining wall as I deadheaded. Should I be happy that they eat the more agressive ground bees?

123 123 said...

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Sandi said...

I just found one crawling on my driveway and tried to catch it --what a beautiful insect! My daughter and I love bugs, but I wasn't sure if it bit or not, so I let it escape!!

d6ed4ff2-b2d7-11e0-acfc-000bcdcb5194 said...

If the only male-female difference is lack of wings then why does the ant (wasp) on the right look so much more "fuzzy" than the one on the left? I just caught a huge one (more than 3/4 inch) that looked like the one on the left. I held it with tweezers and never could make its stinger come out. It was huge and is now proudly mounted on my computer frame with glue on a post-it-note.
bayouelton@aol.

d6ed4ff2-b2d7-11e0-acfc-000bcdcb5194 said...

If the only male-female difference is lack of wings then why does the ant (wasp) on the right look so much more "fuzzy" than the one on the left? I just caught a huge one (more than 3/4 inch) that looked like the one on the left. I held it with tweezers and never could make its stinger come out. It was huge and is now proudly mounted on my computer frame with glue on a post-it-note.
bayouelton@aol.

dvlaries said...

An hour ago, I saw the third of these I ever have in my life. Two reds, one blue, the blue in New Jersey, the two reds here in Virginia.
I was just sitting outside -in stocking feet- having a smoke and there it was, a foot away from where the backdoor concrete gives way to the grass. I ran inside, got a can of Raid Ant, sprayed it three times -direct, saturating hits- and it still continued scurrying deeper into the grass.
Beautiful, of course, but plenty scary. I'm glad this order is wingless!
Look them up on YouTube; somebody there has a particular one that very clearly shows the length of the sting. After that, you'll always give them plenty of distance.

Pink Mommy said...

beautiful creature? um....no, i don't think so. i just stomped on one that was running all over my front porch. i'm glad i was wearing rain boots! just another giant pest i have to put up with. i hate living in the woods.

Nollen Elzie said...

Recently my dad and I were working on a house in a rural area in Tupelo, MS when I noticed a black and red insect dead on the ground. At first I thought it was a Black Widow spider until I looked closely and noticed it had a stinger. I thought it was a mutant ant until I did the research! LOL