Red Velvet Ant – Species Profile & Facts

Red Velvet ants are some of the most exotic creatures you can find, capable of instilling awe and dread at the same time. Don’t let their cute look fool you; Velvet ants are killers and are among the few animal species with no natural predators.

They reign the food chain for several reasons, including:

  • Tough exoskeleton – The Velvet ant’s exoskeleton can withstand 11 times the force necessary to kill a regular bee. This makes it nearly impervious to all insectivores, with notable exceptions coming in the form of larger mammals. The following 2 characteristics will also deter the latter from attacking them.
  • Foul odor – The Velvet ant will excrete a foul-smelling odor designed to cut any predator’s appetite in an instant.
  • Venomous look – Velvet ants are brightly colored, displaying varied colors depending on the species. You can see them coming in red, orange, white, blue, yellow, or brown, sometimes with spotted or striped patterns. These visual indicators scream ‘eat at your own risk.’ And if that’s not enough, they are also capable of delivering excruciating stings.

Today, we will dive into the subject of Velvet ants. What are they, how do they breed, what do they eat, and are they dangerous? Let’s see what we can discover!

What is a Red Velvet Ant?

The Red Velvet ant is one of  many species of wingless wasps belonging to the Hymenoptera order. The male has wings but doesn’t possess a stinger, while the female has a stinger but no wings.

Given its appearance, you could say that the female Velvet ant is a wasp going for an ant look. Its body is covered in tiny hairs of various colors, generally warning of its venomous content. The female Velvet wasp resembles an ant more than the male since the latter is winged.

Why are Red Velvet Ants Called “Cow Killers”?

It has to do with their sting pain index. The Velvet ant’s sting ranks between 1 to 3 on the Schmidt pain index, depending on the subspecies, the affected area, and the individual, since different people have different pain thresholds.

The wasp’s sting won’t kill a cow, that’s just a colorful exaggeration. You can’t deny that the name sounds cool and intimidating, though.

How Big do Red Velvet Ants Grow?

The Velvet ant will grow between 0.5 to 1 inches. This is a small-to-medium size by insect standards, which may seem like it places the wasp in the prey category. As I’ve already explained, that’s not the case.

The Velvet ant uses venom, a tough exoskeleton, and flashy coloring as defense mechanisms against potential predators. These characteristics more than make up for its non-impressive size.

Where do Red Velvet Ants Live?

Red Velvet ants typically live in the Western Hemisphere, comprising North and South America. This wasp species prefers more arid areas with higher temperatures, aiding in its reproduction.

Females especially prefer living near sandy areas, where they can hunt other insects and species of bees for reproductive purposes. We will get into that gruesome subject shortly.

What do Red Velvet Ants Eat?

You can say that the Velvet ant is omnivorous, although carnivorous would be a more accurate description since the wasp doesn’t consume any plants. Instead, it feeds primarily on nectar and will hunt on the side for a surplus of protein.

The Velvet ant will consume whatever it can catch, including insect larvae, bees, flies, beetles, and even other wasps. Nothing can really match its ferocity and anatomical prowess since no insect can pierce its exoskeleton.

This heavily armored wasp is by all accounts unstoppable. Fluffy and unstoppable.

Do Red Velvet Ants Sting or Bite?

You don’t need to worry about the Velvet ant biting you. The insect reserves its biting capabilities for its prey. That doesn’t mean you’re off the hooks because the Velvet ant will sting, and it will sting good. Only the females possess a stinger since their wingless bodies can’t benefit from the protection and flexibility of flying.

That being said, Velvet ants are rather peaceful and timid and will attempt to run when sensing danger. That being said, push its buttons, and it will definitely react as Mother Nature instructed her to. Its venom is mild, but it will inflict a lot of pain, often taking days to subside.

Are Red Velvet Ants Poisonous?

No, they’re not. They are venomous. This is not me being overly pedantic here, but rather scientifically accurate. Poison and venom are no the same thing. Poison is a substance that will inflict damages via swallowing, inhalation, or skin absorption. Poisonous animals will release their toxins upon touching when bitten or swallowed, or even when sensing danger.

In many cases, poison can take effect by merely touching your skin.

On the other hand, venom is an evolved substance designed to interact with biological systems. Venom requires a wound to enter the body and get into the bloodstream, and it’s often injected via stings or bites. Snakes inject their venom via biting, wasps do the same via stinging.

You also have rare instances of creatures that are both venomous and poisonous, like the blue-ringed octopus. This creature can inject venom via biting and release toxins when swallowed.

The Velvet wasp is a venomous animal, delivering its cocktail via the abdominal sting.

How do Red Velvet Ants Reproduce?

I told you we’re going to discuss this gruesome topic later on. Well, this is later on. The Velvet ant ranks as a parasitic organism that will use other insects to reproduce. Simply put, the Velvet ant will infiltrate other insects’ nests (typically the bumblebee) via digging or simply penetrating the nest’s walls.

It will then lay its eggs inside the other insect’s cocoon and remain several days to guard them. It’s not like the bumblebee, or any other insect can flush out the intruder, especially when it’s fully dressed in battle armor. The resulting Velvet ant larvae will feed on the bumblebee larvae and pupa.

Are Red Velvet Ants Rare and Endangered?

Velvet ants are rather uncommon, and you’re unlikely to find one in your backyard. It also helps that they are solitary creatures, only meeting the opposite sex during the mating phase. If you do encounter one or more in your area, avoid touching them. As I’ve explained, the female’s sting can deliver excruciating pain.

To counter Velvet ants and scare them off your property naturally, over-seed the ground to promote richer grass growth. This will create an environment incompatible with various ground-nesting wasps that Velvet ants feed on.

Are Red Velvet Ants Dangerous to Humans?

It all depends on the definition of ‘dangerous.’ Theoretically, the Velvet ant’s sting could trigger an anaphylactic response, the same as with all insect stings, which can be potentially deadly. Despite this risk, there have been no reported cases of allergies to Velvet ant stings.

More realistically speaking, the Velvet ant will only cause minor problems relating to the sting itself. The pain is bearable, and it will go away, and that’s about the only inconvenience you will experience.

If stung, you should disinfect the area and avoid touching it with dirty hands to prevent infections.

Are Red Velvet Ants Harmful to Pets?

Aside from the anaphylactic shock, which is just as rare for dogs as it is for humans, there’s another problem worth mentioning. Dogs tend to investigate their world via their nose and mouth. They sniff, bite, and lick into pretty much anything that excites their interest.

The sting of a venomous insect like the Velvet ant could cause issues if located near the animal’s airways. The swelling can cause difficulty breathing and may lead to more severe complications along the way. If you notice your pet has experienced a close encounter with a Velvet ant, assess its overall state, and take it to the vet if necessary.

As an important note, your pet’s size also matters since smaller pets have tighter airways. As a result, the sting-related swelling may be more severe in their case.

Do Red Velvet Ants Fly?

Only the male red velvet ants can fly. Males fly to find females to impregnate, then move on. Females don’t need to fly, which is why they have developed the venomous sting to compensate for their lack of mobility.

If you see a wingless Velvet ant, that’s a stingy female that you want to avoid.

How to Prevent Red Velvet Ants Get Into Your Home?

There are artificial and natural ways of discouraging Velvet ants from coming near your home. The artificial way refers to the use of insecticides. The problem is that if you have pets, using insecticides might not be the best move.

An even more effective method is to target the Velvet ant’s prey. This wasp species hunts other insects like flies, bees, and other wasps and seeks ground-dwelling insects to lay eggs in their cocoons. Destroying the nests of other insects will force the Velvet ant to leave the area.

Conclusion

Velvet ants are considered parasitic insects that have no harmful effect on the environment. That being said, their sting can be excruciating and may cause more dangerous side-effects in rare cases.

You’re unlikely to find a Velvet ant near your home but, if you do, simply avoid it and monitor the area carefully. You definitely need to find ways to remove the insect from your property if you have small children or pets around.

Wasps   Updated: January 6, 2022
avatar Welcome to Insectic, a blog to learn about insects and bugs. I'm Richard, and I've created this website to share my experience, knowledge, and passion with others.

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