How Bad Is A Velvet Ant Sting? What To Do if Stung?

Velvet ants look harmless and rather cuddly from afar, but they are known to give nasty stings. So, how bad is a velvet ant sting in reality? Will you need medical attention if you get stung?

Velvet ants are found all over the world. There are around 3,000 of these insects found worldwide, and almost 400 of their species are in North America as well, mostly in the Southwestern regions.

They are brightly colored and usually prefer to live in dry and sandy environments.

Apart from their bright and hairy bodies, these insects are known for their intensely painful stings, which has earned them the colorful name “cow killers.”

But are the stings really fatal enough to kill a cow? How dangerous are these creatures to humans? Let us find out in this article.

How Bad Is A Velvet Ant Sting
Velvet Ant

Do Velvet Ants Sting?

Interestingly, not all cow killers can sting. Male velvet ants can’t sting and are entirely harmless to humans. The female velvet ant, on the other hand, can deliver painful stings.

The stingers in the female velvet ant are quite long, and they also use them as ovipositors (for laying their eggs).

Stinging is one of the significant parts of their defense system against potential predators since they lack the ability to fly (which the males do).

What Is The Pain Index of Their Sting?

Schmidt’s sting pain index is used by people worldwide to rank the pain intensity of the sting delivered by different insects.

It was created by Justin Schmidt. The scale starts from zero and goes up to four, where zero is the least painful and four is highly intense and excruciating.

As per this index, the cow killer ants’ sting gets a score between one and three, depending on the species. Three is very high. It is only slightly lower than that of a bullet ant.

What Does a Velvet Ant Sting Feel Like?

As mentioned above, the stings delivered by different velvet ants species are highly painful.

Schmidt has described the pain of being stung by the Dasymutilla Gloriosa, or the glorious velvet ant, as being similar to being stabbed or getting struck by shrapnel.

The sting of the Dasymutilla occidentalis, or the eastern velvet ant is also quite powerful.

Velvet Ant ventral view

How Dangerous Is Their Sting?

Although the stings delivered by velvet ant species are extremely painful, they are not poisonous or venomous.

If you get stung by one, you will experience a throbbing pain near the wound, but there is no need to worry as it won’t cause any severe problems.

You might experience severe swelling, redness, and irritation near the wounded region. The pain level is almost similar to the sting of bees and can last for around an hour.

Other Ways They Defend Themselves

Apart from being stinging insects, these wasps have some other ways to defend themselves from potential predators. 

Since they are solitary wasps, they don’t have the luxury of calling out to their colony, unlike social wasps such as yellow hornets or bees. Therefore, self-defense is their only option.

They use their brightly colored bodies to send warnings to various predators that they possess a toxic sting. This practice is called aposematism.

They also produce a warning sound of sharp squeaking to drive the dangers away.

All species of velvet ants use the phenomenon of Müllerian mimicry (copying the look of an ant) to keep predators at bay.

Ants are formidable insects that most predators are afraid of (because they can fight back in a group). Since velvet ants look like ants, predators stay away from them too.

Red Haired Velvet Ant: Larger file

Can They Really Kill A Cow?

Red velvet ants, the predominant species in America, are commonly known as cow killers. However, these insects are nowhere near capable of killing a big animal like a cow.

There is no solid evidence of a velvet ant killing a cow. The name is simply an assessment of the pain level of its stings.

Also, you must know that the name is not an indication that these wasps attack cows. It is just that their sting is so painful that people believe it is enough to kill a cow.

What Do They Eat?

Adult velvet ants mostly rely on nectar and water to complete their diets. In immature stages, they consume the growing larvae of other insects.

The wingless females lay eggs in the nest of other insects like the ground-nesting bees; once the eggs hatch, the larvae eat out the host larvae/pupae to grow.

Can They Fly?

Only the adult male velvet ants have a set of wings. The females are wingless, and they usually crawl around to reach places.

Despite the absence of wings, these females can protect themselves from predators by using their stings which is absent in the males.

Velvet Ant

Frequently Asked Questions

What happens if a velvet ant stings you?

If a velvet ant stings, you will experience a sharp and throbbing pain near the wounded area. You might face other problems like irritation, swelling, and redness.

However, these bites are not dangerous and will not cause fatal injuries or health problems. If you are allergic to insect bites, it might be advisable to visit a medic, but otherwise, it is not required.

Are velvet ants harmful to humans?

Male velvet ants are entirely harmless to humans as they do not sting. Females, on the other hand, can hurt humans by delivering highly painful stings.

Therefore, one should never approach them recklessly. The sting can cause problems like swelling, irritation, and redness.

How long does a velvet ant sting last?

Velvet ant stings are similar to other wasp stings. However, they are very painful and discomforting and can last up to an hour.

During that period, you may notice redness and swelling near the wounded area. Therefore, you must be careful near these wasps.

How big is a velvet ant stinger?

Velvet ants have a long stinger that they use to deliver excruciating stings. The stinger can grow up to half the size of a velvet ant body.

However, these stingers are only present in females; the males do not have one and are harmless to humans.

Wrap Up

Velvet ants are wasps that have the capacity to inflict high levels of pain through their stingers.

However, you should know that only females can sting, and males are entirely harmless. Despite the pain level of the stings, they do not pose any serious threat to humans, as the stings do not cause any fatal disease or injury.

Use the information given in the article to deal carefully with these wasps. Thank you for reading the piece.

Velvet Ant

Reader Emails

Over the years, many of our readers have been stung by these creatures, and their experience has been quite intense and vivid.

Read on to learn about the real-life experience of being stung by a velvet ant and how much pain it caused them.

Letter 1 – Velvet Ant

 

White fuzzy/hair insect — what is it?
Hi, Daniel!
Despite quite a bit of searching around on your great site, I didn’t find an image anything like this (although I confess that I don’t have any idea where to start). My wife and I recently visited the Palomar Observatory in the NE San Diego County mountains, where we saw this critter on one of the walkways. I would have liked to get a better photo, but it turned, I think defensively, to avoid a head-on shot. It’s not real big — maybe 3/4". What is it? And is the white fuzz/hair normal? Thanks!
Dave



Hi Dave,
We noticed you wrote back to us to say you had identified your Velvet Ant on our site before we had a chance to respond. You photo is beautiful. Someone once described this flightless female was as resembling David Bowie. We have a long history of misidentifying what we have thought was the Thistledown Velvet Ant, but this is another species in the genus Dasymutilla.

Letter 2 – Velvet Ant

 

What is this bug?
I found a wasp-like insect with fuzzy red bottom and black everywhere else. What is this bug? I live in Southern California.
Joelle



Hi Joelle,
This is a Velvet Ant, actually a flightless female wasp. We have several species in Southern California, and this looks like it might be Dasymutilla coccinea.


Update: (04/02/2008) ID for insects
Hey, my name is Will, this is a list of the ID’s for the velvet ant page. 21. is most likely pseudomethoca anthracina. hope this helps a bit.

Letter 3 – Velvet Ant

 

What is this huge ant thing
Found this thing crossing my driveway. What is it and should I be worried. Tried to get a better picture with no luck. Maybe you can zoom in on it. It looks like a huge ant body , but it is red and black and furry. Help!!!!
Sheri in North Carolina



Hi Sheri,
The Velvet Ant is actually a flightless female wasp. Her sting is reputedly painful enough to kill a cow, hence the common name Cow Killer.

Letter 4 – Velvet Ant

 

Ant or Wasp? Or just plain mean?
This little guy stung my 6 year old here in Austin, TX. It’s approximately 1 cm long. When we first caught it, we could see what looks like a stinger at the end of its abdomen, but you can’t see that in the pictures. What makes me wonder if it’s a juvenile of something is that the abdomen has a distinct line where the exoskeleton ends and a soft, fuzzy part protrudes. Any help would be appreciated! (We’ve already had wasp swarms due to Japanese Beetles and a group of bees setting up housekeeping in our walls. I’d like to know what to be prepared for next!)
Thank you!
Kathy Blankenship
I totally forgot to add the weird part. When we caught this thing and were trying to take pictures of it, it made a very distinct buzzing sound.



Hi Kathy,
This is actually both an ant and a wasp. This insect is commonly known as a Velvet Ant, but in reality it is a flightless female wasp whose sting is very painful. The good news is they are solitary and do not exhibit social behavior.


Update: (04/02/2008) ID for insects
Hey, my name is Will, this is a list of the ID’s for the velvet ant page. image 26. sphaeropthalma pensylvanica. hope this helps a bit.

Letter 5 – Velvet Ant Sting

 

Orange, furry stinging “beetle” in Mojave desert, California. October 1, 2009 I live in Lancaster, California in the high desert. One day while working outdoors I saw a furry orange insect about an inch long. It resembled a large furry ant or wingless bee and ran very quickly. I tried to pick it up using my handkerchief as padding and it stung me right through the cloth. The pain was excruciating but only lasted a few minutes. Subsequent examination showed that the bug had a black stinger perhaps 1/4″ long. It’s been a few months and I do not have pictures. I seem to recall the bug had some black too, but the furry part was bright orange. The picture attached is NOT the bug in question, I just needed an image in order to ask this question. Mike from the F.A.A. Lancaster, California Hi Mike, We are sorry to hear you have been stung by a Velvet Ant because the sting is reported to be extremely painful.  Velvet Ants are flightless female wasps.

Letter 6 – Velvet Ant

 

Subject:  Velvet Wasp Geographic location of the bug:  Central North Carolina Date: 06/10/2018 Time: 04:42 PM EDT Your letter to the bugman:  Kitty discovered this inside our house. I got to it before she did and found your site that identified 8t. I hadn’t found an orange one. My question is, is it beneficial (if so, I’ll release it), and how do we prevent others entering our house? Thank you! How you want your letter signed:  Prefer red velvet cake
Velvet Ant
You are correct that this is a Velvet Ant, a female wasp in the family Mutillidae, and we believe we have correctly identified it as Timulla euterpe thanks to images posted to BugGuide, though BugGuide only documents two sightings, one from Louisiana and one from Tennessee, indicating this is not a commonly encountered species.  We would urge you to release her.  The best way to ensure no further encounters in the home is to seal gaps in windows and doors.  Female Velvet Ants wander in search of suitable hosts to serve as food for her brood, and we believe she accidentally entered your home, so you most likely will not need to worry much about further intrusions.  According to BugGuide:  “Ectoparasitoids of immature insects, esp. bees and solitary wasps (also flies, limacodid moths, beetles, and cockroaches)”  and predatory species help to control numbers of other insects, so we would consider this native species to be beneficial.  As is characteristic of members of the family, female Velvet Ants are known to deliver a painful sting.

Letter 7 – Velvet Ant

 

Subject:  Is this a velvet ant species? Geographic location of the bug:  Washington, Texas Date: 08/04/2018 Time: 11:04 AM EDT Your letter to the bugman:  Found this in our home in Washington, Texas. Looks like an ant, but could be a velvet ant (aka wasp). I’d appreciate any help identifying! How you want your letter signed:  Thank you!
Velvet Ant
You are correct that this is a Velvet Ant, a flightless female wasp in the family Mutillidae and not a true Ant.  Velvet Ants should be handled with caution as they are capable of delivering a painful sting.  We are unable to provide you with a species name at this time.

Letter 8 – Velvet Ant stings man in Virginia

 

Subject:  Stings Geographic location of the bug:  Central Virginia Date: 08/11/2018 Time: 08:22 AM EDT Your letter to the bugman:  This creature was in my house and stung my foot. It really hurt and caused some swelling. I typically don’t have bad reaction to stings so I just put some ice on spot and rubbed in some Benadryl cream. How you want your letter signed:  Ed
Velvet Ant
Dear Ed, Your image is quite blurry, but based on your description, we are relatively certain this is a Velvet Ant, a flightless female wasp with a reportedly very painful sting. Thank you. Yes, very painful. I enjoy your site.

Letter 9 – Velvet Ant

 

Subject:  Bug identification Geographic location of the bug:  Scottsdale Arizona Date: 04/15/2019 Time: 02:32 PM EDT Your letter to the bugman:  Hello, We were on a Hummer excursion near Scottsdale on an Indian reservation and I saw this guy crossing one of the paths. The guide said it was a baby tarantula but I’m doubtful because of the legs. I’m hoping you can help identify it. Thank you, How you want your letter signed:  Traci Curtis
Velvet Ant
Dear Traci, This is a Velvet Ant, a flightless, solitary, female Wasp that is reported to have a very painful sting.  This is most likely a member of the genus Dasymutilla, which is well represented on BugGuide, and it might be the Magnificent Velvet Ant, Dasymutilla magnifica, which is pictured on the Arizona Naturalist site where it states:  “The sting is reportedly very painful, but it’s function is to disarm other stinging insects such as bees. Velvet ants enter the nests of other wasps/bees, sting the owner into submission, and lay their own egg in the owner’s larder. Later the developing velvet ant grub will consume the bee grub. Some other velvet ants are parasites of grasshopper eggs in the soil.”
Thank you for the information and links. One of the sites said they are hard to photograph because they don’t stay on the trails long. This one was a friendly little ant and I’m happy we didn’t decide to pick it up!
Have a great day!

Authors

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  • Bugman

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. whatsthatbug.com is his passion project and it has helped millions of readers identify the bug that has been bugging them for over two decades. You can reach out to him through our Contact Page.

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  • Piyushi Dhir

    Piyushi is a nature lover, blogger and traveler at heart. She lives in beautiful Canada with her family. Piyushi is an animal lover and loves to write about all creatures.

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3 thoughts on “How Bad Is A Velvet Ant Sting? What To Do if Stung?”

  1. I was disappointed because this woman’s description said her bug was furry. These don’t look furrry at all. I saw a very furry little thing running very quickly away from me in the Mojave Desert. I shot a photo, but it isn’t great. It had a furry yellow behind and the body was furry also.

    Not like the one above at all!

    Reply
  2. I was disappointed because this woman’s description said her bug was furry. These don’t look furrry at all. I saw a very furry little thing running very quickly away from me in the Mojave Desert. I shot a photo, but it isn’t great. It had a furry yellow behind and the body was furry also.

    Not like the one above at all!

    Reply

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