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Velvet Ant

Natural History

Despite their name, Velvet Ants are not ants at all, but wasps. They get their name from the fact that their bodies are covered with fine hairs and females (which are flightless) resemble ants. Males can fly, but they are rarely seen. Velvet Ants range in size from 1/8 inch to 1 inch and vary greatly in appearance within the more than 150 species that inhabit the United States. 

The photo at right depicts a Red Velvet Ant (Dasymusilla Magnifica for those interested in scientific classifications), one of the more common Velvet Ants found in the desert southwest.

Velvet Ants are brightly colored to signify that they are not to be trifled with. Though males can not sting, the sting of the female ant is reported to be extremely painful (they have been given the nickname 'cow killer' because of this fact). Despite their cute, furry appearance, they should not be picked up or played with (though they have been known to squeak, when captured). The insects mainly feed upon the nectar of flowering plants. After mating, the female will seek out a wasp or bee nest and lay an egg on a host larva or pupa. The ant is protected from the stings of other wasps and bees by its hard exoskeleton. When the velvet ant larva hatches it then feeds on the host.

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