Velvet Ants
Dasymutilla occidentalis (Linnaeus) and other species, Mutillidae, HYMENOPTERA


DESCRIPTION

Adult -- Velvet ants are wasps, not really ants. Adult females are 5 to 20 mm long, wingless, and ant-like. The head and body are covered with dense hairs. The color is generally a brilliant red, orange, or yellow with two black bands on the abdomen. The antennae and legs are black. Males are somewhat larger and have two pairs of wings.

Larva -- The larva is a white legless grub.


BIOLOGY

Distribution -- Velvet ants are widely distributed throughout the South and West. They are usually found in open areas. Although widely distributed, velvet ants are rarely abundant in any area.

Velvet ants are active throughout the warm periods of the year. They are most common during mid-summer. Usually they are seen during the cooler parts of the day. Although usually found in relatively sandy areas, they occasionally may find their way indoors.

Feeding Habits -- Velvet ants are not phytophagous. The adult is known to feed on bees and other wasps at times. The larva is an external parasite of various bee and wasp larvae and pupae. Some species are parasitic on various beetles and flies.

Damage -- No damage to turf by velvet ants has been reported.

Life History -- After bees or wasps have formed cocoons, adult female velvet ants enter the host nest by digging through the soil or breaking through nest walls. Each chews a hole through the cocoon wall and deposits a single egg on the host larva. Usually the hole is sealed and the next cocoon is attacked. The egg hatches and the velvet ant larva feeds on the host. This host is ultimately killed.

Females are capable of inflicting a very severe sting if handled or stepped on with bare feet, hence the common name of cow killer. The winged males are harmless.


CONTROL

Since velvet ants do not cause any damage, no chemical control is recommended. Children should be cautioned not to handle velvet ants. If control of an individual is required, an appropriate mechanical method should be used.