By Alicia Alexander, IPM Intern
Velvet ants, also known as cow killers, are actually wasps. Ants and wasps are in the same insect order (Hymentoptera) but different families. These wasps are fairly easy to identify. They are black with brightly colored shades of red, orange, or yellow. Velvet ants are densely covered in short hairs. They are anywhere from ½ inch to 1 inch in length. The female velvet ant is often confused with a genuine ant because of its wingless body; only the male velvet ant has wings. Velvet ants are solitary wasps and do not form colonies. They are found in sandy areas in fields or meadows.
When laying eggs the velvet ant will look for a suitable nest, usually from a ground nesting bee or wasp, and lay her eggs on the insect larva inside. Once hatched the velvet ant feeds on the larva and stays inside the nest until becoming an adult. Adult velvet ants feed on mostly nectar and water.
Velvet ants aren’t aggressive but they will sting. However, only the female wasp can sting and the sting is usually a lot more painful than a bee sting. Since they are solitary it’s unlikely more than one sting will occur. Walking barefoot and carelessly handling them are common reasons people get stung. These wasps are known to let out a squeak when messed with or alarmed.