Saturday, July 21, 2007

Cow Killer

"Cow Killer" Velvet Ant (Dasymutilla occidentalis) - Female

Despite the name and superficial appearance, velvet ants really are not ants. They are wasps. There are many different species. The one shown above is the most common. Females are wingless, but males have wings. The males of this particular species look very much like the females, except for those wings.

Cow Killer larvae are parasites of bumble bees. The females locates a bumble bee burrow, digs down and lays an egg. When the egg hatches, the larvae invades a bumble bee brood chamber where it consumes the bee larvae. The velvet ant larvae then pupates in the bumble bee brood chamber and emerges as an adult.

When you find these females velvet ants in nature, they usually remain in constant motion. That's why I had to do a "catch and release" on this female in order to get her photo. Females can deliver a painful sting. In fact the sting hurts so much it is said to feel as if it could kill a cow; hence, the common name. I haven't conducted any personal research into velvet ant stings, and don't intend to.


Ryan said...

i just found one of these in my backyard. i live in spring, tx. second time i have seen one since moving down here. they look so cool with the red and black coloring.