Velvet Ants – A Quick Guide

Velvet ants, Dasymutilla klugii, also known as the cow killer are in the North American southwest.

Are velvet ants actually ants?

They are wasps, not ants. The female velvet ant does not have wings and as such has a similar appearance to an ant, hence the name. The name is erroneous though as they are in fact wasps. The male velvet ant does have wings, although they don’t have the typical wasp look. Rather they are furry and lack the slender body associated with wasps.

Is the velvet ant stinger big?

They have the longest stinger of all wasps. Not only do velvet ants have the longest stinger but it is also the most flexible. The velvet ant is able to direct the stinger in any direction. This makes it extremely difficult for predators to avoid a sting.

Velvet ant
velvet-kuglii – Unlocked, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Is the velvet ant sting painful?

The sting is painful. The velvet ant ranks highly on the Schmidt insect pain index. Schmidt describes the pain from the sting as ‘Explosive and long-lasting, you sound insane as you scream. Hot oil from the deep fryer spilling over your entire hand.’ Read more about the pain index here.

How did velvet ants get their name?

They are covered in velvety fur. As the name implies velvet ants have velvet-like fur, often in bright colors. This fur has evolved as a form of warning to potential predators. It is a warning that the velvet ant has a powerful sting and should be avoided. See this article about wasps and fur. They are erroneously called ants because the females do not have wings.

Velvet Ant
velvet Ant – YiSi

Are velvet ants strong?

They can withstand forces 11 times higher than a honey bee. Their shell-like bodies are able to withstand substantial pressure and it is very difficult for predators to get any kind of grip on their bodies. The hard shell of the velvet ant fends off predators while they maneuver their sting.

Female velvet ants have extremely powerful legs. The lack of wings is compensated with strong leg muscles. The velvet ant is able to move quickly and exert force to escape a predator’s grip.

Can velvet ants kill cows?

The velvet ant gained the nickname cow killer due to the pain of its sting. There is no documented evidence that the cow killer has ever come close to killing a cow, however.

Are velvet ants parasites?

They are parasites. Velvet ants will search out other insect cocoons and use them as a host to feed their offspring. The velvet ant will locate a cocoon, or hard shell, often of another solitary wasp species, fly or moth. Once located the velvet ant female bites a small hole into the cocoon, lays her eggs inside with her stinger, then seals the cocoon. The velvet ant wasp egg hatches in the host cocoon and the wasp larva grows inside feeding on the host larva.

What defense mechanisms do velvet ants have?

They have a painful sting and warn predators to avoid them using bright colorations, noise, and odor. They vibrate their bodies to create a warning sound. The noise covers a wide range of sound frequencies. It sends the message to any potential predators that they are facing off with a velvet ant. The velvet ant does not want a predator to be in any doubt who they are dealing with. In addition to the noise they make, and their bright colors, they also send out a clear warning in the form of an odor. Again the message is clear, stay clear or you will be stung. The smell and warning sound are likely associated with the sting and thus avoided.