Latin for “oh this is going to hurt”. No, not really. But – this fuzzy little dudette isn’t an ant at all. It’s a flightless wasp and is commonly called a Velvet Ant or a Cow Killer (Ant). This one was found on Pilot Mountain in North Carolina a few hours before sunset (these guys are generally nocturnal).
Oh that sting!
Cow Killer? Doubtful. But the sting of the female is reportedly so painful as to knock a cow out. Really. Referenced to be between a 3 & 4 on the ever-poetic Schmidt Pain Scale referenced in the Sweat Bee post. Like other wasps, they can and will sting repeatedly.
And since thou gives but does not like to receive, the “skin” (integument) of the Velvet Ant is especially tough to guard against wasps and bees while it invades their nests. Generally the Velvet Ant is not aggressive and will often try to avoid confrontation. It even has a specialized stridulitrum on their metasoma that produces a chirping/squeaking noise to warn predators.
Velvet Ant Reproducing & Population
Velvet Ants occur worldwide but generally stay in tropical climates where it is warm and sandy. They are fairly common in the American Southwest and the oldest known velvet ant (25-40M years) came from the Dominican Republic and was found preserved in amber.
On momentum with their nasty sting, making babies isn’t an altogether pleasant experience either. After mating, the female seeks out the nests of wasps or bees. A Cicada Killer Wasp is a great target since their create their nests on the ground. After the developing cicada killer wasps wind themselves tightly into their cocoons, the velvet ant lays her eggs on the cocoon. As soon as the eggs hatch they happily and heartily feed on, and eventually kill, the cicada wasp larvae. The pupae velvet ants will stay in the nest until it emerges fully developed.