Flaming red velvet ant
Location: western North Carolina
July 24, 2011 7:48 pm
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
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.