Red Velvet Ant (or ‘Cow Killer Ant’) Sting: How to Treat It?

Velvet ants are an unusual insect that has the word ‘ant’ in their names and are usually mistaken for a species of ant, but these ants actually belong to the wasp family.

These insects can generally be found in your garden area and yards during the months of July, August, and September. If you talk about their anatomy, than they are similar to the ants, and in addition, they have orange and red coloured hair on their back. This fuzzy hair is a unique feature that these velvet ants possess, and their size varies from ⅛-inch to ⅞-inch.

These velvet ants have a small gap in between their abdomen and thorax which gives it a slightly different look from the traditional ant family. These velvet ants do not possess elbowed antennas and have straight antennas instead. Velvet ants are solitary and do not run in groups.

In earlier times the scientists were unable to classify the female and male velvet ants into the same category due to the vast differences that they had in their appearances. The female and male velvet ants possessed the properties of dimorphism which means being highly dissimilar to each other.

Scientists found out they were the same only when they noticed the male red velvet ants mating with their female counterparts. Male velvet ants have the capability of flying and are blessed with two sets of wings whereas female velvet ants do not have wings for flying.

Male velvet ants are harmless at all times and do not sting. Females have long stingers attached to their abdomen and can sting. Both female and male velvet ants can produce a squeaking sound when they are threatened or when they are disturbed.

Velvet Ant Myths

These velvet ants are also known as cow killer and mule killer ants and are considered to be as so deadly that they can kill livestock. But this is just a myth and not reality. It is believed that their sting can cause the death of cows and mules, but this is not true.

Only the female ants can sting and not the males. Even if a female stings, it is when they face danger, otherwise they are harmless.

Male and Female red velvet ants

male Red Velvet Ants

male Red Velvet Ants

Female Red Velvet Ants

Female Red Velvet Ant

Red velvet ants are supposed to belong to the family of Multilidae to which other bees and wasps belong. They look similar to the ants but are actually wasps.  Male and female red velvet ants have a sexual dimorphism which means that the females and males have a slight difference in appearance.

The males look different from each other.

In some cases of these ants, the males are slightly bigger in size in comparison to the female red velvet ants and thus follow the concept of reverse sexual dimorphism. Earlier scientists didn’t classify the male and female red velvet ants into the same group because they had a difference in their appearance, but later they were categorized in the same group.

This happened because the difference between the features of male and female red velvet ants was so different that it was challenging to make out that they belonged to the same species unless they were found mating with each other.

The females are bright and colourful and do not have wings for flying and are capable of hunting on the ground. But their male counterparts are not brightly coloured and do not have hairs on their backs, but they  have wings which enable them to fly.

Velvet Ants in Relation to Wasps

Red Velvet Ants

Velvet ants belong to the wasp species and not the ant species. The female velvet ants are responsible for stinging because male ants do not sting. So if you are stung by a red velvet ant, then it is the female ant that has stung you and not the male velvet ant. These red velvet ants are bright red coloured ants, and they also have the capability of crawling exactly like ants do. The body structure of these red velvet ants is also similar to the ants, and the female ants have black and orange-coloured hair on their surface which differentiates them and gives them a distinguished look. You can find these ants infesting pastures and fields and can also make a squeaking sound if they are somehow disturbed by anything or any activity.


Usually, you will never find these species of wasps in groups and are generally seen in solitary. The male red velvet ants go out in search of their female counterparts during mating process. Once the mating is done, then the female red velvet ant goes and lays its eggs in pre-built underground nests or a bumble bee’s nest where other eggs have been laid.

The eggs of the red velvet ants are like parasites as the new egg turned larvae feeds on other insect larvae lying nearby.

Food That Velvet Ants Eat

Red Velvet Ant

Adult red velvet ants feed on water and nectar whereas the young ones and larvae of these insects feed on the larvae of other insects.

Water and nectar are the primary sources of food for an adult velvet ant. These velvet ants lay their eggs on the ground and are very lazy and lay their eggs in the nests of bumblebees. The velvet ants like to stay in places where there are fields and pastures so that they can hunt for their food easily.

Defence System

Both the female and male velvet ant can squeak and make noise when they find themselves threatened or irritated. These ants are very quick and are also capable of releasing smelly odours.

Stinging is another defence mechanism that the female red ants use to keep enemies away. The venom that is present in their sting is not toxic, but the pain can last for about an hour.

Velvet Ant Sting

Red Velvet Ant

Velvet ants are also known as mule ants and can sting you with all their power and intensity. The velvet ant sting will not cause death but can affect your health in significant ways; the sting may cause you to have an allergic reaction and a cause massive amount of pain.

According to studies, the pain of the sting can last for almost half an hour. The symptoms after getting stung by a red velvet ant can cause emotional agitation, dizziness, low blood pressure, etc.

So if you happen to be stung by a red velvet ant then make sure that you get medical help.

Symptoms of a Velvet Ant Sting

If a velvet ant stings, then there’s a chance that you may get an allergic reaction and swell on the affected area. The severity may vary. Other symptoms also include health hazards such as difficulty in breathing, wheezing, uneven pulse rates, low blood pressure, rashes, emotional agitation, etc.

Velvet Ant Aggressiveness

Red Velvet Ant

Are velvet ants aggressive? ‘No,’ their names may seem dangerous such as cow killer and mule killer and are supposed to be able to kill livestock, but this is just a myth.

These ants do not sting others until they are provoked or find themselves in danger. So unless you are irritating, these red velvet ants you do not have to worry about being stung by a red velvet ant. If you are comparing the female red velvet ants with their male counterparts, then females are aggressive and can sting you with their stingers if you play games with them.

Cow Killer Ant (Velvet Ant) FAQs: 

1. Can velvet ants really kill a cow?

We all know that the red velvet ants are also known as cow killer ants, but the question is: can these ants really kill a cow? The answer is no, they cannot kill cows and can be supposed to do the same in your dreams, but this doesn’t happen in practical life. These ant’s do sting you but cannot kill you, the sting can be extremely painful but are not highly toxic talking in terms of lethality. These velvet ants sting is supposed to be the most painful stings and cause burning sensation in the affected area. The pain can go down a bit after a few minutes, but the initial pain can make you run down in tears.

2. Are velvet ants harmful?

Many times people wonder, do velvet ant sting? Yes, they do sting, but only the females velvet ants are capable of stinging as they have stingers, but on the other hand, the male velvet ants can never sting you as they lack stingers. The male ants will instead run and find ways of escaping when they are encountered and are not aggressive in nature. But if you try to play up games with the female velvet ant, then they are not the ones who are going to turn back and run but will sting you in return. To be precise, these stings are not like the normal sting that you get from the small-sized ants but this kind of a bite is one of the most painful and worst stings, and the pain can last for an hour if you have been stung by a velvet ant.

3. How to get relief from a velvet ant’s sting?

The sting of a velvet ant can cause allergies and other health hazards. If you happen to be stung by a velvet ant, then make sure that you opt out for medical assistance as soon as possible. The velvet ant sting can be extremely painful, and for the first aid, you should thoroughly clean the affected area with a disinfectant at first and then further use ice packs to compress the swollen area. You can also make a mixture of water and baking soda or antiseptic creams and apply on the infected area to prevent any further infection caused due to the sting. If you further find some allergies or itching sensation, then you should rush to a hospital to get proper medical help.

4. Do velvet ants fly?

Many people have a question in their mind regarding Can velvet ants fly as people hardly find a chance to witness a red velvet ant flying. Yes, velvet ants do fly but their flight is not very high, and they are capable of flying only up to the extent of few inches above the ground. The male ants fly to mate with the females, but they fly in proximity with the ground and are thus not highly noticeable.

5. Where do these velvet ants lay their eggs?

When a male velvet ant mates with a female velvet ant and when it’s time for the female ant to lay eggs it goes out in search of nests made by bumble bees to lay its eggs. She intrudes into the nests by digging holes underground and getting through the walls and lays its eggs beside the larvae of the bumble bees so that the young velvet ants can feed on the larvae of bumblebees. So if it happens that these velvet ants lay its eggs in a bumble bees nest where the bumble bees have laid their eggs, then it is probable that the new bumble bees will be killed for sure as these parasites are going to feed on them.

6. How many species of cow killer ants exist?

Cow killer ants have more than one species, and there are about 3,000 species of this ant that have been discovered. This species prefers dry, hot regions and can be found across the Western Hemisphere.

7. Can a home be infested with cow killer ants?

No, not normally. While these ants can sometimes wander into a home, they do not want to stay in your home. These ants prefer to stay outdoors in the open and prefer areas that are not shaded. They like the dry heat, and this is why you may find them in gardens, lawns or pastures.

So, while these ants will not invade your home, they may invade your lawn or garden.

The good news is that neither the males or females cause damage, but the females can sting which is quite painful.

8. Should I call an exterminator to get rid of cow killer ants?

You can, but chances are that you’re not going to need to call on a professional. These ants do not form colonies in the same way other ants do, so you will not find hundreds or thousands of them around your home or yard.

In fact, this is one species of ants that is trying to avoid humans – and they do it very well.

Control efforts are not required to keep this species at bay, so you can be confident in knowing that they’re just a pest that is living their lives. You should not need to call an exterminator, and if you do see one of these ants, make sure to stay away from them: female stings hurt a lot.

9. What are the basic characteristics of these ants?

If you can identify these ants, you’ll be better prepared to stay away from their painful stings. These ants are black in color, and they have velvet-like hair that is on their backs.

Bright colors make them a rather “pretty” insect, and these colors can be white, yellow, orange or red.

They have six legs, and they span from 3 to 23 mm in length, You’ll find these ants all throughout the US, and males have wings while females do not. But the females do have a stinger which will cause pain and swelling in the impacted area.

10. What is the normal life cycle of these ants?

The life cycle of the red velvet ant leaves a lot of mystery. What we do know is that the young are parasites, and they will feed off of the young of other insects. In fact, the young feed on the larvae of bees and wasps.

Velvet ants will attack wasps and bees placing their eggs into the victim’s cells.

And when they take over the nest of these wasps or bees, it is done so forcibly. It may be several days before the velvet ant decides to leave the nest. Scientists are unsure of why they stay in the nest for so long, but one theory is that they await the return of bees or wasps that have left the nest and may come back.

Some of these species may even parasitize.

What this means is that they will exploit other wasps or bees with their young, infesting them. Females will use their painful stings during this process.

Cow killer ants are not truly an ant species, but they are a very well-known insect due to their unique name. While they tend to stay away from humans, the female ants will sting you if they’re provoked. The long, painful stinger will cause you to swell, suffer from pain and may cause an allergic reaction if you’re allergic to them.

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