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Red Velvet Ant (Cow Killer Ant) – Complete Guide

Velvet ants are an unusual insect that has the word 'ant' in their names and are usually mistaken for a species of ant but actually belong to the wasp family. These insects can generally be plotted in your garden area and yards during the month of July, August, and September. If you talk about their looks and physique, then 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 are in possession of, and their size varies in the range of one to two 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. On comparison of their antennas, these velvet ants do not possess the elbowed antennas and have straight antennas instead. The velvet ants are usually found in solitaire and do not run in groups. These velvet ants are found in different type and of different colours namely red, black, yellow and brown.

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. The scientists found out the same only when they noticed the male red velvet ants mating with their female counterparts until then they were not classified to the same species. The male velvet ants have the capability of flying and are blessed with two sets of wings black in colour whereas the female velvet ants do not have wings for flying. The male velvet ants are harmless at all times and do not sting as they do not have stingers whereas the female ants have long stingers attached from their abdomen and can hurt you if you turn out as a threat or a sign of danger for these velvet ants. Both the female and male velvet ants can produce a squeaking sound when they find themselves in a state of insecurity or when they are disturbed.

Myth about velvet ants

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 in this regard. Firstly only the female ants can sting and not the males. Even if a female sting, it is when they face symptoms of danger otherwise they are harmless and don’t interfere in our business.

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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.  Talking about the male and female red velvet ants, these ants have a sexual dimorphism which means that the females and males have a slight difference in them when compared on the basis of their 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 of this group are bright and colourful and do not have wings for flying and are capable of hunting on the ground. But when you talk about their male counterparts, they are not brightly coloured and do not have hairs on their backs but have wings which enable them to fly.

Velvet ants in relation with wasps

Red Velvet Ants

Velvet ants belong to the wasp's 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.

Biology

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 for the mating process. Once the mating is done, then the female red velvet ant goes and lays its eggs in some pre-built underground nests or a bumble bee’s nest where other eggs have been laid. These eggs of the red velvet ants are like parasites as the new egg turned larvae feeds on the other insect's larvae lying nearby and thus kill them to fill their own stomach.

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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 in their attributes and behaviour and thus do not make their own nests and lay their eggs in the nests of bumblebees. The young ones of these wasps are like parasites which feed on the larvae of other insects that are lying beside them when they are in some other insect’s nest. 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 of red velvet ants

Both the female and male red velvet ant can squeak and make noise when they find themselves annoyed or irritated. These ants are very quick in their movement and are also capable of releasing smelly odours. Sting is another defence mechanism that the female red ants use to keep off from their enemies or source of danger. The venom that is present in their sting is not toxic but the pain can last for about an hour leading you into immense pain and can cause health hazards.

Sting of velvet ants

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 allergies and a massive amount of pain. According to studies the pain of the sting can last for almost half an hour and may make it difficult for you to bear the pain. 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 take medical help and do not become your own doctor and wait for things to be cured up on its own. Do not avoid such a case and visit a doctor as soon as possible, for first aid you can apply antibiotic cream or baking soda paste to prevent any further action. Make sure that you compress the affected area and rush to a doctor for some medical help.

Symptoms of a velvet ant sting

If a velvet ant stings, then there are chances that you may get allergic reactions and swell on the affected area. The severity may vary with reference to the intensity and poison that has been stung in your body. 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

You may have many a time heard people asking if these velvet ants are aggressive? So the answer to is a simple ‘No,’ their names may seem dangerous such as cow killer and mule killer and are supposed to be capable enough to kill livestock, but this is just a myth that people have in their minds and not the reality. These ants do not hurt sting others until they are provoked or find themselves in a condition of 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.

Frequently Asked Question about Red Velvet Ants

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 red velvet 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?

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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.

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