Have you ever come across an insect that looks like a large ant decked out in red velvet? Learn the secrets of the velvet ant, which is also known as the cow killer wasp.

velvet ant

However, some more common names that you may hear the velvet ant labeled as include: cow killer ant, cow killer and panda ant.

What is a Velvet Ant?

A velvet ant is not an ant at all. It’s one of many insects that belong to the family Mutillidae. And these family members are actually types of wasps.

So why are they called velvet ants? To start, the females of the Mutillidae family don’t have wings, so they look like larger ants. This is especially true since ants and wasps both tend to have a constriction between the abdomen and thorax, which makes them appear to have a very narrow waist.

The velvet aspect of the insects’ name comes from the fact that the wasps are often covered with setae — stiff hair like structures — that can resemble velvety fur.

Velvet ants can range in size from 0.5 inches to 1 inch long. They also come in a variety of colors, including black and brown, and some species have bright red, yellow or orange markings. Males of each species typically resemble their female counterparts with one notable exception: The male wasps have wings.

Does a Velvet Ant Sting?

Female velvet ants can sting. Furthermore, the velvet ant’s sting can be painful and some species of these insects can pack quite the punch. According to the University of Florida, the intense pain that may follow a sting is how they got their other nickname, the cow killer.

So, if you’ve ever wondered if a velvet ant is the same insect as a cow killer wasp, you have your answer. They are indeed one in the same.

Because of the sting these wasps can dole out, you should never try to handle one. Additionally, you should avoid walking barefoot in areas where the wasps are known to be found. As with any wasp or bee, if you have a predisposition to being allergic to insects, you could experience a severe reaction to a velvet ant sting.

Like most stinging insects, a velvet ant is unlikely to sting you unless it feels threatened. Most of the insects will try to run away from you. However unlike other wasps, these wasps do not live in colonies, meaning the chances of receiving multiple stings from different wasps are slim.

Where Do Cow Killer Wasps Live?

These wasps are pretty widespread throughout the country. In fact, you can find them in almost every state, including Alaska and Hawaii.

Females tend to seek out sandy areas where ground-nesting bees or other types of wasps tend to live. This is because the cow killer wasp is a parasite. Once a female cow killer wasp finds the residence of a colony of ground-nesting bees or wasps, she lays one to two eggs on a bee or external parasitoids of bees and wasps pupa. This pupa will act as a host to the cow killer eggs. When the cow killer eggs hatch, the young eat their hosts. Then the cow killer larvae winter inside the host nest as they mature and eventually pupate. A few species will use beetle and flies

Searching for more information about interesting insects? Check out these seven strange insects from around the world or learn about some stinging arthropods that glow under black lights.