Currently viewing the category: "Velvet Ants"
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Weird lookin bug!
August 20, 2011
So we just pulled into a campsite outside of Mobil, Alabama and saw this little guy running around. Never seen them were I’m from any ideas?
Sean Reid


Hi Sean,
We hope our response got to you before you tried picking up this Velvet Ant.  Velvet Ants are flightless female wasps and they can sting.  This species,
Dasymutilla occidentalis, is reported to have a sting that is so painful they are called Cowkillers.  Once a reader supplied a comment that when cows get stung, they often begin running, sometimes falling down and injuring themselves to the point that they have to be put down, hence the name Cowkiller.

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Possible fire ant
Location: Memphis tn
August 15, 2011 11:31 pm
My brother was laying on the floor playing with his Ipod and felt something crawly on him he shifts and next thing he knows lots of pain. I would like yo know what bug this is. I stomped it 6 times and it’s still alive. Under further investigation I saw it had a red 2mm long and .1mm or smaller wide singer (not visible in picture) which was completely retractable into the abdoment.
Signature: Ender670

Velvet Ant

Dear Ender670,
This is not a Fire Ant.  It is a Velvet Ant, but Velvet Ants are not true ants.  They are flightless female wasps, which is why your brother got stung.  The sting is reported to be very painful.  We believe your species is
Dasymutilla quadriguttata based on images posted to BugGuide.

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Big red ant
Location: Wichita, Kansas, USA
August 9, 2011 11:31 am
I have seen a few of these big red ants in my finished basement in Kansas lately. It has been a record-setting hot summer, so we have spent a lot of time in the cooler basement. I live on the outskirts of Wichita, with a wheat field adjoining our property.
The first time I saw one of these, I squished it with my finger. Actually, I thought I killed it, but I didn’t. I picked it up after stunning it, I guess, and it bit (or stung) me. Then I tried again with something hard, and it made quite a crunch.
Today, my children caught one in a plastic baggie, so I have been trying to identify it.
My first thought after internet searching was a velvet ant, but it is not that fuzzy and the stripe on the ant does not match the pictures I have found.
It is about 1/2” long. The other one might have been slightly bigger. The main color is an orangish red or rust red. There is a definite white stripe, with black at the end of the last body segment.
Can you identify it for me?
(Sorry about the picture quality, but I didn’t want to let it out of the baggie.) The orange lines are 1/8” on a ruler.
Signature: Nancy

Velvet Ant

Hi Nancy,
This is a Velvet Ant, a flightless female wasp, and the sting is reported to be quite painful.  Not all Velvet Ants are as fuzzy as the commonly pictured Cow Killer.  We will eventually try to identify the species.  It resembles
Dasymutilla nigripes which is pictured on BugGuide

Thank you. I believe you are correct. That photo matches much better. And the sting did hurt a lot. My finger was sore for about 20 minutes, I would guess.
Nancy Reeves

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terribel painful sting
Location: woodland hill, california
July 26, 2011 9:49 pm
everywhere this year – been here 15 years and never seen this bug
black body – does not fly – looks like a white clover flower –
terribly painful sting
Signature: cheers

Velvet Ant

Dear cheers,
We do not want to even attempt a species identification from such a blurry image, but we can tell that this is a Velvet Ant, and you are correct, they are reported to have an extremely painful sting.  Velvet Ants are flightless female wasps, and may have bright orange and red coloration with black markings.  Under no circumstances should Velvet Ants be handled with bare hands.  A sting is sure to follow.


Conditions were right.  Unseasonal rains may have contributed.

What's That Bug? does not endorse extermination

Flaming red velvet ant
Location: western North Carolina
July 24, 2011 7:48 pm
Hi Bugman,
Our family are huge fans of your site and use it often to find out about all sorts of insects.
This one had us truly stumped. We had never seen anything like it in western North Carolina. She (as we found out here) obviously looked very dangerous so we were careful not to touch when we scooted her gently into the jar to photograph her.
Wow am I glad we did! I logged in here ready to ask ”What’s that bug?” And found the article on the top five and discovered this velvet ant aka cowkiller. Now we don’t know what to do with it.
We have 3 small children and, of course, their safety is all we really care about. How do we handle getting rid of her carefully?
Signature: Emily – concerned mom


Hi Emily,
We are thrilled to read that you heeded the warning sign of aposomatic coloration and that you were able to quickly self identify this magnificent
Dasymutilla occidentalis, commonly called a Cow Killer, using our website.  In our opinion, you should release her, but how far from the home might be a dilemma for you.  Though your children are young, we hope that they were included in the research process and that you instructed them that they might get stung if they try to pick up a Velvet Ant of any species.  The habitat of the Cow Killer, according to BugGuide, includes “Meadows, old fields, edges of forests” so you might consider releasing her in some open space nearby that would suit her needs.  The life cycle of the Cow Killer is quite interesting.  According to BugGuide, the female Cow Killer:  “Invades the nest of bumble bees, especially Bombus fraternus. Female searches for bumble bee nests, digs down and deposits one egg near brood chamber. Larva of the Dasymutilla enters the bumble bee brood chamber, kills those larvae, and feeds on them. Larva pupates in the bumble bee brood chamber.“  We have always been intrigued by the origin of the name Cow Killer, and back in 2010, a comment from 22AGS was posted to our site that provided this anecdote:  “In south Georgia in the early ’60s, farmers used to tell me that this wasp got its name by getting into the cloven hoofs of cows and stinging them there. The cow would then run madly off and sometimes be injured or fall, breaking it’s leg. Thus the name, as the lame cow would then have to be put down.“  That posting later inspired this comic that was created by one of our readers.

What's That Bug? does not endorse extermination

The Big 5 are five potentially dangerous bugs.  Though we do not by any means endorse any wholesale extermination of the creatures on this list, we would caution all of our readers to treat these guys, though more are actually gals, with the utmost respect.  They will all bite and or sting, and they are all venomous.  There are no doubt deaths that can be associated with most if not all of them, though we would also add that the death to survival rate is very low.  We would now like to introduce you to The Big 5, though we expect that there will eventually be more than five creatures so tagged.

#1:  Tarantula Hawk
It’s really big, it flies, it announces itself with a buzz that sounds like a small airplane, and it advertises with aposematic coloration (orange and black), an it has a really big stinger, at least the female does.  There are not many creatures that can take on a Tarantula and win, but the Tarantula Hawk seems to have no problems perpetuating the species by feeding upon the meat of a tarantula during its formative period.

Tarantula Hawk

Update:  August 9, 2011
We just received this comment on a Tarantula Hawk Posting:
“Went back to the location where I took the Tarantula Hawk Pic hoping to see a bit more. Saw one dragging a male tarantula along and got to close. You are correct they have a very painful sting, got me on the hand twice. I dropped the camera went back to get it and got zapped again, this time on my calf. Being handicapped and unable to run, though I did a fairly good impression of all three stooges melded into one trying to make my escape, I will take appropriate measures next time I try to get that close to something and its food. I almost had to have my ring cut off my hand it swelled up so fast. The only pics taken that day were of me after a shot of benadryl, not so hilarious pics taken by my ‘firends’ while I was passed out from the benadryl and drooled on the sofa. Those stings are about on par or worse with the few scorpion stings I have had in the past. A regular wasp or bee sting pales in comparison. I am just glad that I did not have a very severe allergic reaction. So be warned do not attempt to get to close to these flying strike force wasps once they have their prey in ‘hand’.”

#2:  Bark Scorpion
Bark Scorpions in the genus
Centruroides are among the most dangerous North American Scorpions.  Here is what BugGuide has to say about the sting of several species of Bark Scorpions:  “The sting of most scorpions is not serious and usually causes only localized pain, some swelling, tenderness and some discoloration. Systemic reactions to scorpion stings are rare.
The sting of one of our scorpions, however, Centruroides sculpturatus(until recently thought to be the same as Centruroides exilicauda), the Arizona Bark Scorpion, can be fatal. Most healthy adults are not at significant risk- only children, with their smaller body size, are in danger (treatment with antivenom has pretty much put a stop to deaths where available, but bark-scorpion stings should still be taken very seriously). The site of the sting does not become discolored.  Another scorpion known to have an intense sting is Centruroides vittatus, but no deaths have been attributed to it directly.”

Bark Scorpion

#3:  Red Headed Centipede
Most of our reports of Red Headed House Centipedes,
Scolopendra heros, come from Oklahoma and Texas and they are reported to grow as large as 8 inches in length.  All Centipedes have venom, but the Tropical Centipedes in the order Scolopendromorpha are generally considered the ones with the most virulent venom.  There are several subspecies of Scolopendra heros, and there are also numerous color variations.  Not all individuals have a red head.

Red Headed Centipede

#4: Black Widow
With her glossy black body and red hourglass marking, the Black Widow Spider is an icon of warning coloration.  The venom of the Black Widow is a powerful neurotoxin, and according to Emedicine Health, it is described as:  “Local pain may be followed by localized or generalized severe muscle cramps, abdominal pain, weakness, and tremor. Large muscle groups (such as shoulder or back) are often affected, resulting in considerable pain. In severe cases, nausea, vomiting, fainting, dizziness, chest pain, and respiratory difficulties may follow.  The severity of the reaction depends on the age and physical condition of the person bitten. Children and the elderly are more seriously affected than young adults.   In some cases, abdominal pain may mimic such conditions as appendicitis or gallbladder problems. Chest pain may be mistaken for a heart attack.   Blood pressure and heart rate may be elevated. The elevation of blood pressure can lead to one of the most severe complications.   People rarely die from a black widow’s bite. Life-threatening reactions are generally seen only in small children and the elderly.”


Black Widow

#5:  Cowkiller
The Cowkiller is a female Velvet Ant, a flightless wasp that is alleged to have a sting painful enough to kill a cow.


Runner-Up:  Creechie
Unlike the Big 5, the runner-up, the Paederus Rove Beetle, does not bite or sting, but it can cause an horrific skin reaction by merely touching it.  Most of our reports of Creechie (African name) where it is also called the Acid Bug, AKA Cari-Cari in Malaysia, Potó in Brazil  and potentially Bicho de Fuego in Panama, come from tropical countries.  Though most of our reports of Paederus Rove Beetles have come from Africa, Asia and South America, we did receive a report from Arizona two years ago and one from West Virginia in 2008 in December which we imagine means Creechies can survive the cold.  Paederus Rove Beetles also sport aposematic coloration.

Creechie in Camaroon or Cari-Cari in Malaysia

 Runner-Up:  Muskmares
Walkingsticks in the genus Anisomorpha are commonly called Two Striped Walkingsticks or Muskmares. The second common name is due to the frequency that these Walkingsticks are found in the act of mating.  These Muskmares are capable of spraying a noxious substance with great accuracy over some distance, and they are good at hitting the eyes of a potential threat.  The effects wear off shortly, but will cause the eyes to water and blur as well as sting.  The latest information posted to BugGuide has the potential for harm as more serious:  “Members of this genus can deliver a chemical spray to the eyes that can cause corneal damage.” 

Mating Muskmares

What's That Bug? does not endorse extermination