Yesterday, July 7, 2004, I was walking out of my garage with my two young sons (ages 20 mos. and 3 yrs.) and I turned my back for literally 20 seconds. My three year old comes running up to me and says his hand hurts. It looks dirty so I asked if he fell and he says, “a bug.” I asked if the bug bit him and he says no, but insists that his hand hurts. In order to distract him, I suggested that we get the mail. On walking to the mailbox, he says, “there it is!” I look to my right and see this bright red bug walking on the driveway. The bug was 3/4 inch long, I would guess, and the brightest red I have ever seen. Mostly red with black legs and, I would guess, three black stripes. I was startled and afraid as I do a lot of gardening and have never seen anything like it, so I stomped it with my shoe. I had to run an errand, but about 30 minutes later I checked my son’s hand as I was worried because the bug looked so wicked. His right thumb had swelled to about 1.5 times the size of his other thumb and was very hard/tight. It also had a white tiny pin prick in the middle of the fatty part of his thumb. I started to panic a bit, but within another half hour, the swelling started to go down and he said he was “all better.” When I got home, I started to dig for information on the internet and after two hours found your site. Part of my problem was that I thought I had seen a beetle of some sort so I typed in red bug (which came up with chiggers), red beetle (which came up with a red milkweed beetle, sort of close but not quite right) and red locust (which was definitely not what I saw). The body was segmented in three parts and I thought since it was crawling that it could not be a bee. After finding your site, I took tweezers and a white envelope and went to see if the bug parts were still in any shape to take a photo. I collected the bug and noticed it was very furry and in particular it had sort of longer legs than I had originally thought that were also furry. It was not as red as when I saw it walking, but it had been about four hours in the hot Georgia sun. I showed it to my husband when he got home and he said it looked like a wasp or hornet so I came back to your site and saw a picture of the bug I think I saw – a Velvet Ant, listed under wasps. I have become fascinated with your site since yesterday and read many clips just to learn more. Once I had a name for the bug I saw, I tried to find more information via several search engines, but with little success other than some pictures. My son seems fine now, but more of the story continues to come forth. He told me today that “the red bug was walking in the grass and (he) tried to pick it up.” Yikes! He also told me that he isn’t “supposed to touch bugs without asking Mommy because it might bite (him).” I guess maybe a good lesson for him since he is fascinated with all wildlife and touches without thinking usually. Anyway, none of the sites I could find really listed if a sting by a Velvet Ant is harmful, other than the pain. Do you know? Are they common in Georgia (we live in Forsyth County, north of Atlanta)? Do they change color (become a brighter red than normal) when they have been messed with or picked up? Are the males the same bright colors as this female was? Do you think I will see more? If I do see another one, I will try to snap a picture to send to you. After seeing your site, I felt guilty for killing it. It would have been a very good picture, I think. Thanks for your site!! Sorry for the “long version” of my story,
PS. I saw an email by Eric Eaton referring to www.bugguide.net as a good source for info. In this case, it was not very helpful for me (I am a bug idiot, more or less). Although, I did see that some of the pictures of the Velvet Ant that were posted were taken in Georgia, which answers that question I guess.
Velvet Ants are female flightless wasps. The males are smaller and have wings. There are many species of Velvet Ants, and some are bright red, others orange and still others yellow. The sting is painful, but not serious unless there is an alergic reaction. I love the name Cow Killer for the species Dasymutilla occidentalis, which is common in the South. Perhaps another websearch with the scientific name will give you additional information. I am very happy our site was helpful.