Where Are Velvet Ants Found? States Where Velvet Ants Are Common

Velvet ants are really pretty and, despite their ability to sting, are a favorite of many bug enthusiasts. But where are velvet ants found in the US? Let us check it out.

Have you ever heard of cow killer ants? Well, the name might sound highly intimidating, but these tiny insects are nowhere near capable of killing cows.

The cow killer ants are known as velvet ants and there are around 8,000 of these species worldwide.

In this article, we will share details that will help you know this insect better.

Where Are Velvet Ants Found
Velvet Ant

Are Velvet Ants Really Ants?

Velvet ants might look similar to big hairy ants, but these insects are a type of wasps.

If you look closely, you will notice that they have straight antennae, while the ants have elbowed-shaped antennae.

These wasps have a painful sting and are also commonly known as cow killers or cow killer ants.

Velvet ants have brightly-colored yellow and red bodies which are covered with dense hair.

They are considered solitary wasps and are often seen roaming around the yards during the months of July, August, and September.

Can They Fly?

The male adult velvet ants have two pairs of black and transparent wings. The female velvet ant, on the other hand, has no wings, and it certainly can’t fly.

Due to the absence of wings, the female look much similar to ants. The adults can be spotted flying around flowers in search of nectar.

Velvet Ant

Why Do They Mimic Ants?

Different organisms mimic each other as an adaptation to survive certain conditions and dangers. The female velvet ants mimic some activities of the ants to defend against potential predators.

One of the main reasons behind this is that the wingless females of this species can’t fly to safety when they are attacked, so they develop additional techniques to stay safe.

Moreover, ants are considered one of the hardest prey in the insect world. Their ability to lift heavy loads and fight in groups helps them repel many predators.

Therefore, mimicking an ant is certainly a smart idea on the part of the velvet ant.

Apart from mimicking ants, cow killers also show aposematic signals through their colors to warn predators that they are hard to eat.

These warning signals are seen all across the insect world, including in ladybugs and many species of butterflies

Where Are They Found?

The species of velvet ants are scattered across the world. The red velvet ant (Dasymutilla occidentalis) is a common one found all over the US.

You can see these wasps all throughout Missouri to Connecticut in North America.

In South America, you can spot velvet ant species from Texas to North Florida. They are also found in some regions of Australia and the UK.

Red Haired Velvet Ant

What is Their Habitat Like?

Velvet ants usually do not build their own nests. They invade the nests of other insects, like ground-nesting bees, and lay their eggs near the existing larvae.

Once the eggs hatch, the velvet ant larvae kill and consume the larvae of the existing species that their parents had removed from the nest. In this way, these wasps are parasitoids.

Due to this tendency, the females are often seen near places where the hosts build their nests.

You can also spot them in sunny and dry areas where bees make their nests. Lawns, cemeteries, and non-shaded areas of forest are also ideal living spots for these wasps.

What Do They Eat?

Adult velvet ants mostly depend on nectar and water to fulfill their diets. This is not different from most other wasp species.

The velvet ant larvae, on the other hand, eat the host larvae and pupae to fulfill their nutritional requirements. Velvet ant larvae are parasitoids, a common characteristic in most wasps.

Velvet Ant

Are They Dangerous?

The male velvets ants can’t sting and will cause no harm to humans. However, the females are stinging insects that can deliver painful stings when they are threatened.

Their stingers are large, which these females also use as an ovipositor.

According to Schmidt’s sting pain index, the pain intensity of the bite is ranked 3 out of 4, where four is the highest and most painful.

But apart from the excruciating pain, the bites are rarely dangerous. In fact, the name cow killers is a bit of a stretch. Velvet ants are not capable of killing cows or even dogs or cats.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are velvet ants rare?

In the United States, you can find red velvet ants in Missouri, Connecticut, Texas, and Florida. They love to be around dry and warm areas like lawns and cemeteries.
There are many species of velvet ants scattered all over the world. You can find them in the UK and Australia as well.

Can velvet ants hurt you?

vMale velvets ants don’t sting or bite humans and are completely harmless. However, the females will deliver highly painful stings if they feel threatened.
Apart from the pain, it causes swelling, redness, and irritation in the wounded area. But thankfully, these bites are mostly not dangerous and won’t cause any serious trouble.

Can you touch a velvet ant?

You should not try to touch or hold velvet ants, especially the females. These insects are usually non-aggressive, but if they feel threatened, they will certainly sting you.
Their sting can inflict a great amount of pain. If you want to touch them, it is better to wear gloves so they can’t reach your skin and sting.

Can you keep velvet ants as pets?

You should not keep velvet ants as pets because the females will sting you and your family members.
Adding to that, these stings are highly painful and will cause severe redness, swelling, and irritation.
The males, on the other hand, are equipped with wings which means they will keep flying around your house like pests.

Wrap Up

Velvet ants are quite common in the US, but outside, they are only found in the US and Australia in limited spots.

They get their name due to their ant-like appearance and the thick coat of hair covering their brightly-colored bodies.

Velvet Ant

The males and the females have different features which they use to survive against predators. The female velvet ants are capable of delivering painful stings to humans and pests. Therefore you must never handle them recklessly.

The bites can cause other problems like irritation, redness, swelling, and more.

Thank you for reading; we hope we were able to answer most of your questions, and do drop us a comment below if you need any more clarifications!

Reader Emails

Over the years, many of our readers have asked us to identify velvet ants. They are found in many places in the North American continent, so the question about which all states they are present in is quite a common one.

Do read the emails and see the beautiful pics captured by our readers.

Letter 1 – Unknown Velvet Ant from Arizona


Velvet ant
Greetings, I am having trouble with the identification of this velvet ant. It loves to have a little mist along with it’s fruit nectar. So as you scroll down the hair gets drier in each photo. I believe it to be in the Dasymutilla family but can’t key it out with the books that I have at my disposal. Your help with the identification would be greatly appreciated. Neat little gal. Thanks for your help and great web site, sincerely,
Jerry Schudda
Tucson, Arizona

Hi Jerry,
We could not find a convincing match for your Velvet Ant on the BugGuide pages, though Dasymutilla coccineohirta looks close. Perhaps Eric Eaton will be able to assist us.

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 1. dasymutilla coccineohirta. hope this helps a bit.

Letter 2 – Velvet Ant from Arizona


What’s that Ant?
Was on a ‘fun walk’ on the Navajo Reservation when I came across this interesting little ant. I wish the picture was a little clearer but it wouldn’t stop when I asked it to. I ran across it near Kayenta, Arizona. Earlier, I had seen a similar ant except it was blue. There are so many interesting bugs on the reservation. I’ll have to find more and take pictures of them.

This is not an ant. It is a flightless female wasp commonly called a Velvet Ant. According to the photos on BugGuide, this would appear to be in the genus Pseudomethoca.

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 16. Pseudomethoca sp. hope this helps a bit.

Letter 3 – Velvet Ant from Mexico


Bugs identification…
Hi, I work as webmaster in small new Zoo, at Puerto Vallarta Mexico. I like a lot insect so in my free time I go around in dry jungle here to observe plants and discover insects I have never seen! Well so i have found this little creatures, hope you could identify them. I think the first one is a velvet ant (cow killer) , does this animal really sting to kill a man or a cow¡? I didnt have my macro at that time so the pics are not really good. … I will aprecciate your answer, and it will be really grate to understand the behavior of this little amazing creatures of the low level world =) Thank you.
Christian V.

Hi Christian,
We are happy to get your Velvet Ant photo. Its markings are very different from any other photos we have received. The sting of a Velvet Ant is very painful, but will not kill a person or a cow unless there are extenuating circumstances like allergies. We don’t know what your caterpillar is, but it sounds like it might have been parasitized, which interfered with the normal life cycle.

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 17. Dasymutilla sp. hope this helps a bit.

Letter 4 – Velvet Ant


Never seen this bug before
I’ve looked over many pages on your site and just haven’t seen anything quite like this. It’s possible I just didn’t click on the right link to find this bug, but I figured it couldn’t hurt to ask anyway. My mother and I own a house in Quail Valley, CA, and we see this bug appear every now-and-then in our front yard. My Mom says she thinks it kind of looks like an ant, I say it looks like a beetle. Either way, this thing is weird! Bright red and dark black – hairy all over. It’s about an inch and a half long. I attached a picture. Tell me if you know about this creature! Thanks

Hi Jade,
This is a Velvet Ant, a flightless female wasp. Watch out, she stings. We found a species match on BugGuide for you. We believe your species is Dasymutilla magnifica.

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. 29. Dasymutilla magnifica. hope this helps a bit.

Letter 5 – Velvet Ant


Black insect with fuzzy redish orange abdomen Wed, Nov 26, 2008 at 5:30 PM Found in Peoria, Arizona in November. A solid looking 1 1/4 inch long and maybe a 1/2 inch wide insect, deep black with a vibrant redish-orange fuzzy abdomen. No wings & very busy walking around looking for something. If you were going to draw this critter, you would use a sharpie due to its solid features. The Nicoloffs Peoria, AZ (out in the desert)
Velvet Ant
Velvet Ant
Dear Nicoloffs, This is a Velvet Ant, one of a colorful group of wasps in the family Mutillidae. Male Velvet Ants have wings, but females are flightless and resemble colorful hairy ants. Only the female is capable of stinging, and the sting of several species is quite painful. We believe, based on images posted to BugGuide that your Velvet Ant is Dasymutilla magnifica, but the photo is so blurry, it is impossible to be certain.

Letter 6 – Velvet Ant from Jalisco, Mexico


Giant furry ant or bee without wings? July 11, 2009 I found this inside out house. He was about 5/8 inches long. David Brownell Jocotepec, JAL, Mexico
Velvet Ant from Jalisco
Velvet Ant from Jalisco
Dear David, Your insect is a flightless female wasp known as a Velvet Ant, but we do not know the species.  It is probably in the genus Dasymutilla.  We already posted another individual from Oregon today. Your photo is awesome.

Letter 7 – Velvet Ant


Black and Orange Fuzzy Butt Bug November 13, 2009 I saw this bug today, while hiking at Lake Pleasant (Arizona), it was walking very quickly on the ground. I only had a chance to get one photo. Hundewanderer Lake Pleasant, Arizona
Velvet Ant
Velvet Ant
Hi Hundewanderer, This is a Velvet Ant, a flightless female wasp in the genus Dasymutilla.  We believe, based on the location and on photos posted to BugGuide, that this might be Dasymutilla magnifica.

Letter 8 – Velvet Ant from Australia


aussietrev Black Velvet Ant February 16, 2010 Hi guys, Congratulations on being near the end with the book project. It has been hot and very wet around this way and over the last couple of days I have come across several of these male wasps hunting around in the sandy soil. There has been some females too but they don’t like the camera getting close. As an aside, I noticed the letter about the light and the funnel. One method of trapping insects is to bury a bottle with a funnel so that the lip of the funnel is at ground level. A light is suspended above it and ground dwellers walk to the light and fall into the funnel. Hope that sheds some light on it 🙂 aussietrev Burnett region. Queensland. Australia
Velvet Ant
Hi Trevor, Welcome back.  We have missed getting submissions from you.  Your letter is a tad bit confusing.  You talk about the male wasps hunting, and the females not letting the camera get close, yet you have submitted an image of a female.  The female Velvet Ants are wingless and the males have wings.  The Brisbane Insect website has photos posted that look very similar to your image, but alas, they have only identified it to the family level of Mutillidae.  Another page on the Brisbane Insect website indicates that most species in Australia are in the genus Ephutomorpha, but that same page labels some wingless individuals as being male.  The What Bug Is That? guide to Australian insects has a nice description of Velvet Ants.

Letter 9 – Cow Killer


Unknown ant-like insect July 16, 2010 Location:  Virginia Okay, out in my yard today in Virginia, I encountered a bug I’ve never seen in my life. It’s mostly shaped like an ant, only massive like the size of a bee or such. It’s a deep, bright red with a couple black stripes across its abdomen and appears to have a somewhat velvety texture (though I didn’t touch it to make sure). It does not possess any wings. Normally, I’d just let it go but I have two small nephews staying with me right now and don’t want any harm to come to them. Deimos
Cow Killer
Hi Deimos, Congratulations on being the first person to use our brand new form.  We hope our readership likes our new form and that it makes submitting identification requests easier.  Your insect is a Velvet Ant known as a Cow Killer, Dasymutilla occidentalis.  We hope you heeded the warning colors, because Velvet Ants are actually flightless female wasps that can sting.  The common name Cow Killer refers to the sting being so painful it might kill a cow.  Though the sting could not kill a cow, it is none the less reported to be quite painful.

Letter 10 – Velvet Ant


Flightless Bee and large Velvet Ant? Location:  Sonoran Desert, Arizona August 5, 2010 4:06 pm I was camping in the Arizona Wilderness, just off of US93 on Wilderness Access Road 7469, when something bright red caught my eye on the ground. I stopped the Jeep and jumped out with my camera. I had no idea what it was, and trying to take a photo was comical, as it was scurrying about, non-stop! It looks like a bee with no wings, but it was the bright red bottom that amazed me. It is about 1 1/4” in length and has six legs. I have never seen anything like it. What is it? BJ Roberts
Velvet Ant
Hi BJ, Based on photos posted to BugGuide, your Velvet Ant may be Dasymutilla nogalensis.

Letter 11 – Velvet Ant and California Harvester Ants


red bug Location: Anza, California June 30, 2011 6:32 am Hi, Photographed this fast little thingy on our property last year. I’ve seen a couple of them before, but they always seem to escape the frame before I can capture more than their tail-end leaving the picture. Any ideas please? Signature: Karen
Velvet Ant and California Harvester Ants
Hi Karen, The big gal is a Velvet Ant, a flightless female wasp that packs quite a painful sting.  We believe the red ants are California Harvester Ants, Pogonomyrmex californicus, which also sting. Thanks Daniel, Love the site, by the way.

Letter 12 – Velvet Ant


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

Letter 13 – Velvet Ant from South Africa


Subject: ant Location: St Lucia, South Africa December 28, 2012 12:33 pm What k7nd of ant is this. Signature: any
Velvet Ant
Dear any, This is a Velvet Ant in the family Mutillidae, a flightless female wasp (males have wings) that is reported to have an incredibly painful sting, if they are anything like their North American relatives.

Letter 14 – Ant from Malaysia is Echinopla melanarctos


Subject: black furry ant Location: Malaysia March 24, 2013 5:23 am size: ~1.5cm slow moving found in low land tropical forest nearby a stream. is it an ant or a velvet ant? Signature: wxchew
Velvet Ant
Ant:  Echinopla malanarctos 
Hi wxchew, Unless we are greatly mistaken, this is a Velvet Ant in the family Mutillidae, and not a true ant.  Velvet Ants are flightless female wasps that are reported to pack a very painful sting.  Male Velvet Ants have wings. Correction:  Echinopla melanarctos Thanks to wxchew who wrote back in a comment, we now know that this is a real Ant, Echinopla melanarctos.

Letter 15 – Velvet Ant from Colombia: Traumatomutilla species


Subject: What’s This Bug? Location: Colombia November 9, 2013 11:34 pm I found this on the railing of the stairs of my work. Signature: Omar D.
Velvet Ant
Velvet Ant
Hi Omar, We believe this is a Velvet Ant in the family Mutillidae.  She looks very similar to the Hoplomutilla species from Guyana pictured on American Insects.  Velvet Ants are actually flightless female wasps that reported deliver a painful sting if carelessly handled.
Velvet Ant
Velvet Ant
Thanks Daniel! My bug really looks like a Velvet Ant. Thanks for the warning about the sting. Good to know.

Letter 16 – Velvet Ant from Greece


Subject: A weird insect Location: Greece,Rhodes January 30, 2014 6:25 am Hello, sorry about the comment but I was confused of this site. Well,this insect is almost 2 cm long, it hasn’t got any wings, its brown colour (near to red ),and the rest of it’s body is bee’s colour. It has got 6 legs and when i touched it, it made a sound like a hamster. Signature: Manol
Velvet Ant
Velvet Ant
Hi Manol, Though in English it is commonly called a Velvet Ant, this is actually a flightless female wasp in the family Mutillidae.  They are known for makings sounds as you described.  We found a very similar looking Velvet Ant from Greece on FlickR, but it is not identified to the species level.

Letter 17 – Velvet Ant from Israel


Subject: looks like huge ant with yellow and black colors Location: Israel May 6, 2014 1:43 am Hi, Found this bug (image attached), looks like ant, big ant, with black back and yellow dots, bee colors. called it bant 🙂 Did you see something like this before? Signature: Best Regards, Tarik Haddad
Velvet Ant
Velvet Ant
Hi again Tarik, Sorry about the very short reply yesterday.  We were late.  This is a Velvet Ant, a flightless female wasp, and North American relatives are reported to have a very painful sting, so we imagine the same is true of the Israeli species.  Velvet Ants often have bright warning coloration, known as aposematic coloration, to warn people and predators to leave them alone.

Letter 18 – Velvet Ant from Spain


Subject: Velvet ant In Central Spain Location: Ocaña, Toledo July 10, 2014 3:15 am Hi, I found a female velvet ant yesterday just south of Madrid. Later on I saw what looked like a winged male. I am unfamiliar with Mutillidae of Spain and have failed to find any information on the species these may be. I have sent a photo of each, but the camera I used was somewhat poor. Another photo I found online, that seems to be of an identical animal is here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/gails_pictures/6796465621/in/album-72157647857067094/ I appreciate that it is pretty much impossible to get a definitive species level ID without the actual animal, but any information would be greatly appreciated. Thanks Signature: Bec
Velvet Ant
Velvet Ant
Dear Bec, Thanks for sending your Velvet Ant image.  We found a very similar looking Velvet Ant on FlickR that is identified as Sigilla dorsata and then we found an image on Invertebrados Insectarium Virtual to support that identification.  Velvet Ants are flightless female wasps reported to have a very painful sting, and nonstinging male Velvet Ants have wings.  Your winged insect is in the order Hymenoptera, which included Ants, Bees and Wasps, but we cannot confirm that it is a male Velvet Ant.
Unknown Hymenopteran
Unknown Hymenopteran

Letter 19 – Velvet Ant from Mexico


Subject: Spider? Ant? Location: San Jose del Cabo, BCS Mexico December 14, 2014 6:26 pm We are in Los Cabos Mexico. Have seen two of these on our patio today. What are they? Signature: Cheryl C.
Velvet Ant
Velvet Ant
Dear Cheryl C., This is a Velvet Ant, a flightless female wasp in the genus Dasymutilla.  You should try not to handle Velvet Ants, or handle with extreme caution as the sting is reported to be extremely painful.  Only female Velvet Ants are flightless, and only female Velvet Ants sting.

Letter 20 – Velvet Ant and Wasp from Australia


Subject: Black Velvet Ant and ? Location: Oldbury Western Australia January 31, 2015 5:49 am Hi again, I could write to you just about every day asking about one bug or another, but I don’t like to BUG you too much! LOL… sorry… anyhow… I’m pretty certain second pic of a wingless wasp is a Black Velvet Ant (seems like a dumb name when it’s not an ant), although I don’t know the exact species name. I was mainly wondering, given the colour resemblance, if the first winged wasp is the male of the same species? They were both photographed on my property just south of Perth in Australia a day apart. If I am guessing wrong please correct me. Thanks. With appreciation, Signature: Jill Wozhere
Velvet Ant
Velvet Ant
Dear Jill, We believe your identification of a female, flightless Velvet Ant is correct, and your individual resembles the example from the genus Bothriomutilla that is posted on the Brisbane Insect website.  We do not believe the winged wasp is a male of the species, but we cannot provide an identification at this time.  Velvet Ants are flightless female wasps, and Ants and Wasps are actually members of the same order and the common name Velvet Ant refers to the resemblance and flightlessness of the female.
Thank you Daniel for your reply and the interesting information. Personally I still think they shouldn’t call it an ant if it isn’t actually an ant, but I won’t make a federal case out of it.  If you find out the species of the other wasp, please let me know. Best regards, Jill Hi Daniel, Further to the unidentified wasp in one of the previous pic I sent… I’m guessing now that it is a female spider wasp from the family Pompilidae. I figure it’s a female, because I also found I had a pic *yes I took it and yes you’re welcome to have it, of mating wasps and with it being at the bottom, it just stands to reason it’s the female. (male has red abdomen and female has larger eye) Pic attached. What do you think?
Mating Wasps may be Spider Wasps
Mating Wasps may be Spider Wasps
Hi again Jill, We agree that the mating wasps look like the same species as the single wasp image you submitted, and we also agree that they might be Spider Wasps.  We do have a favor to request regarding future submissions.  Please limit your submissions to one species per submission form and please use a new submission form for each submission.  I really complicates our ability to post and archive submissions when multiple species occur in one email, and adding additional images to an existing email chain further complicates the posting process.  We will create a new posting for the Flower Wasp.  

Letter 21 – Velvet Ant from Zimbabwe


Subject: Ant/wasp…i dunno Location: Zimbabwe, Harare April 10, 2016 3:05 am Hi bugman I found this bug i’ve never seen before. Actually it found me…ouch! Please let me know what it is. Thanks Signature: R.C
Velvet Ant
Velvet Ant
Dear R. C., Though they are commonly called Velvet Ants in North America, members of the family Mutillidae are actually wasps.  Males are winged and look like typical wasps, but flightless female Velvet Ants more closely resemble Ants.  Velvet Ants are reported to have a very painful sting.  If you are interested, our good friend Lepidopterist Julian Donahue just forwarded us this marvelous link to BBC Earth regarding Velvet Ants. Thanks Daniel! Very informative article.

Letter 22 – Velvet Ant from Baja California


Subject: What is this bug??? Location: Los Barriles, Baja CA Sur May 6, 2016 5:33 pm Hi, I hope you can help identify this bug. It was crawling on my arm in the middle of the night, yikes. I swiped it off, very scratchy feeling. I didn’t notice the welt until the next morning and that was a week ago. Welt is getting bigger every day! We found two of them, one in the bed and one on the kitchen counter, have never seen one before. Signature: Maureen
Velvet Ant
Velvet Ant
Dear Maureen, This is a Velvet Ant, a flightless female wasp in the genus Dasymutilla.  Velvet Ants have a very painful sting.  Based on your description, it does not sound like you were stung, as there would have been an immediate pain.  We have not heard anything about Velvet Ants having urticating hairs that can cause irritation, a reaction that can be caused by handling Tarantulas and some caterpillars and certain plants like stinging nettles, but that sounds like the reaction you have had.  We don’t normally cite Wikipedia, but they do have a very nice explanation on urticating hairs, but do not mention Velvet Ants.  Encyclopedia of the Deserts does mention this phenomenon:  “Females [Velvet Ants] produce noxious chemicals from the abdomen when disturbed, and when grabbed they bite viciously with large, sharp mandibles and sting with a long stinger that injects a painful toxin.  In addition, the hairs on their bodies are like tiny spears (called urticating hairs) that cause considerable irritation to the mouth and nasal passages of animals that attack them.”  See BugGuide for more information on Velvet Ants.

Letter 23 – Velvet Ant from Venezuela


Subject:  Beautiful and big Ant Geographic location of the bug:  Caracas, Venezuela Date: 08/01/2019 Time: 05:50 PM EDT Your letter to the bugman:  I foud the ant at my yard this morning. It`s the second one I see in a year. it`s about 3 cmts. long. How you want your letter signed:  Arturo
Velvet Ant
Dear Arturo, We feel quite certain that this is a Velvet Ant, a flightless female Wasp in the family Mutillidae.  We just hope we can find an image on the internet to confirm our identification.  BINGO.  Here is an image on Steemit, but alas, it is not identified to the species.  This image on FlickR is identified as being in the genus HoplomutillaInstazu has many images.  Velvet Ants are reported to have a very painful sting.  One species of Velvet Ant from North America is commonly called a Cow Killer though we don’t know of any actual documentation of a cow dying from the sting of a Cow Killer.
Thak you Daniel for your prompt response. and especially for the information about the  very painful sting of the  ant (wasp). I was triyng to put her on my hand, thank God she did`n want to climb up my fingers.


  • 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.

  • 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.

81 thoughts on “Where Are Velvet Ants Found? States Where Velvet Ants Are Common”

  1. I seen this exact one crawling into my backyard my husband has it in a plastic bottle and took it too work. It is indeed a velvet ant. Scary. Now i have to keep an eye out on my daughter when she is playing outside.
    Moreno Valley, CA

  2. I’ve heard stories of cows actually eating these (by accident) while grazing and were stung in the throat when being swallowed and did indeed die. Just a story-not much proof but something to consider.

  3. Many years ago when I was 9 or 10 years old I saw one of these velvet ants for the first time. It was beautiful so I scooped it up in my hands to take home to show my mother. Before I made it home it stung me and I can say that it was the worst insect sting that I can remember, but I did not die. 🙂 I see them frequently and let them go on their way.

  4. My father pointed one of these out to me when I was about 4 years old on a farm in Delaware. The thing that shocked me the most (and makes me avoid all wasps like the plague) was how it stings. He took a piece of styrofoam and agitated the thing until it reared it’s abdomen above its head and the styrofoam actually vibrated as it was attacked. He called it a cow killer too, but didn’t say it could kill them, it would most likely make them bolt once stung, like a snake could, and that stinger would get through their hide on their feet.

    • Dear shadowspawn,
      Thank you so much for this anecdotal information. First hand observational information like this is so important to our website.

  5. 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.

  6. This story is indeed about as close to fact as possible. The hoof is one of the few places where the cows couldn’t do a thing about the wasp, as it couldn’t be reached. This is a great site Bugman, I expect to learn quite a bit. South Florida certainly has its share of native and non-natives to keep us guessing, and your site is a tremendous tool for identifying these multi-legged/antennaed/eyed/winged/ etc etc little monsters! LOL Thanks!

  7. These things are so hard to kill !!! You have to put complete pressure on them and still step on them and move your foot about 10 times before you can actually kill them !! I hate being mean and cruel, but I am one who cannot stand spiders, insects or anything of the nature! I have two sons, one who is 6 and another who is 2, and I am scared they may have an allergic reaction and I hate making them put shoes on when going outside to play, we have a small farm and it seems like we find these cow killers, especially around my flower beds around the front porch!

    • My first encounter of this colorful and beautiful insect was in Arkansas. I am not a cruel person either,but I did try to step on it. It did nothing. I tried to stomp on it and it was still very much alive. I finally had to get a large tool to kill it. I had no idea what it was. A local person told me about this cow killer and after I looked up the information about it I stay very clear of it and the male that flies.It indeed was extremely hard to kill. I truly hope I never experience it’s sting!

  8. If you are still interested in identification, I’d say it more closely resembles the female of Sphaeropthalma pensylvanica.

  9. Hi, it looks like an velvet ant for me too because of the furry appearance. But later i’ve been told that this is probably an ant from the Echinopla genus, maybe a Echinopla Melanarctos.

  10. I messed around with what looked like and probably was a cow killer in south GA when I was about 12. I tried to kill it but couldn’t so I put a glass over it on the ground where I found it. It was very agitated from my messing with it and started to make a loud, for a bug, noise. I left and returned later that day to find some ants trying to get to the killer. It was still making that noise and it seamed as if the ants were responding the cow killers calls. Are ants attracted to cow killers distress calls?

  11. This is the first I’ve seen this site and I like it! I moved to Northern Florida last August from northwest Pennsylvania. I know all the bugs and animals and trees and flowers, etc. from that area. BUT, I have no idea of all that is here in Carrabelle, Florida, in the water or on land. It just so happens that one of my neighbors pointed out a cow killer to me 3 weeks ago. He said he hadn’t seen one in years but that I should stay away from them. He also said that they are almost impossible to kill.
    I was just walking out in my back yard, with my little dog, when I came across one by my bird bath. Of course, I was freaked out and tried to kill it before it would hurt my dog. I could not kill it by stepping on it so I finally found a discarded oyster shell and cut the horrible creature in half. It still is living!!!! How can I get rid of it?!?!?!? I didn’t used to be a ninny up North but I am still trying to get used to the strange wildlife here. Don’t get me wrong …. I love my home and the people and the area, I just don’t want to get hurt. I am a 64 yr. old woman and loving to learn about new things.

  12. I’m northerner living in South Carolina and just came across one of these cow killer bugs while I was out searching the yard for a snake that had just bitten my dog. “Crazy Day” .Just would like to say that after reading your forum I’m feeling much better knowing more information about these insects. There seems to be so many different kinds of hazards living in the south. Thanks for the info

  13. If you enjoy learning, please learn to not kill any bug due to fear or possible ignorance of its’ capabilities re harm to humans. I thank you, as do the crawly creatures.

  14. Why would you kill an insect outdoors…or—in most cases— indoors, for that matter? Velvet ants won’t sting if they’re not being messed with. Instead of killing them out of some wrongheaded fear for your children’s safety, wouldn’t a better approach be to teach your children not to touch them but to appreciate them? They are a stunningly beautiful insect, and you should feel fortunate to see them…and teach your kids the same. Regardless, this site isn’t the proper forum to post about the difficulty of killing them.

    • Thanks for providing your comment. Though we try to educate the public to appreciate and respect the lower beasts, in many cases our efforts are futile.

  15. I was told that if a cow were to lay down on the “cow killers”nest, or pile, that they would get stung so many times that it would die. Now I don’t know if these”cow killers”have nests, or if they live in colonies?

  16. We saw one of these today at a state park in Delaware. It was quite fast and it we just observed it. We noticed it when it was about six inches away from my 76 year old mom’s foot. So glad she didn’t agitate it or get stung by it! It was an incredible looking insect. Thanks for helping me identify it on this site! Great info!

  17. I just saw one of these today, in my front yard in Dover, Delaware. It was indeed beautiful. I wanted to capture it, to photograph it, never having seen anything like it before. I thought about picking it up, but it looked wasp-like, and such a brightly colored insect reminded me of poisonous frogs. Glad I chose to run for a glass jar to capture it, but sorry to say it disappeared before my return.
    What a treat, just to see something so beautiful. Beauty is everywhere, isn’t it?

  18. Perhaps this story is unfit for your readers, but I thought you might enjoy it. One of my first jobs out of college was as a botanist in SE Oregon. The first day in the field my boss went with me to “show me the ropes”. This part of the state is very sparsely populated and we were in an area at least 50 miles from the nearest civilization. I was examining a rare plant when my boss suddenly let out a scream I can still hear, yanked down his pants and began leaping about in a most fantastic manner. Turns out a velvet ant had crawled up his pant leg and stung him on a very sensitive part of his anatomy (unfortunately, I actually observed the offending creature et al.) I had to drive him back to the office with the contents of our ice chest held firmly in his lap.
    The funniest part was how from that point onward he avoided contact with me at all cost and I was free to do my job without any supervision.

  19. I can attest to the VERY painful sting, I stepped on the fuzzy kind, magnifica I guess? But I remember it made a strange sound too. I live in Texas and have seen them around Dallas/Fort Worth and Waco as well.

  20. I found just such an antwasp yesterday (24-1-15), I discovered it as it was stinging my thigh. I can say that the sting was quite painful, a bit like the sting of a common wasp, and it leaves a small mark like a big mosquito bite. It still very vaguely hurts now, but nothing to get excited about. I released it as it caused me no harm.
    The location was Kadesh Barnea.

  21. I found just such an antwasp yesterday (24-1-15), I discovered it as it was stinging my thigh. I can say that the sting was quite painful, a bit like the sting of a common wasp, and it leaves a small mark like a big mosquito bite. It still very vaguely hurts now, but nothing to get excited about. I released it as it caused me no harm.
    The location was Kadesh Barnea.

  22. We too have noticed a Cow Killer here in our backyard in Charlotte, NC. We have young Grandbabies and a small dog. All the information here on your site is great. I have to say that before I knew what this insect was I was able to have it climb onto a toy and I placed outside of our fence, it didn’t seem aggressive, but did move very fast She returned and graced us with her presence yet again today. I don’t want to kill her…I live all creatures but, also don’t want our Grandbabies, one of which is very highly allergic to bites, or our small dog stung. What can anyone suggest to keep them at bay? Very concerned! Thank you

  23. I haven’t seen any Cow Killers this year yet. It was late in July last year before they appeared and was wondering if later in the summer is when they are out? Thank you

    • We suspect they tend to appear when weather conditions are correct. According to BugGuide, Florida sightings have been reported from April to September. Other states data are listed as well. You did not provide a location.

  24. I have lived in Florida for almost 50 years and have played with these ants (wasps) my entire life. They do give a distress “squeak” when held down with a twig and that is a good way to see their amazing stinger in action. I am an avid outdoorsman and have been stung or bitten by just about every bug in Florida over the years. As a teenager, I was stung several times by a very large cowkiller (we called them Devil Ants) when I put on a shoe I had left outdoors overnight. It was very similar to being stung by a honeybee or large hornet. The four sting sites became swollen and feverish over the next few days. It was painful for sure but nowhere near the sting of a bumblebee. I once took a shot from a bumblebee under my armpit while working and it left a hole in me that you could put your little finger in. The cowkiller was a piece of cake compared to that one. It is similar to a typical large wasp sting.

  25. My husband and I just witnessed a cow killer carry off a beautiful garden orb spider that had created a web next to the back door. It was a sad sight to see. The spider was pretty big maybe the size of a half dollar but the cow killer was dragging it across our deck. This was a male because it had wings. We live in northeastern coastal NC. This summer is the first time I’ve seen these insects.

    • We suspect you saw a Spider Wasp in the family Pompilidae and not a male Cow Killer. Male wasps do not provision nests and according to BugGuide, the Cow Killer “Invades the nest of bumble bees, especially Bombus fraternus. Female finds a host nest, digs down and deposits one egg near brood chamber. Larva enters the host brood chamber, kills host larvae, feeds on them, then pupates in the brood chamber.”

  26. I just had one of these ‘fine specimens’ join me to bed; Eastern/Tri-Cities Tennessee; what a sting that left!

  27. I had one outside my house today. In Grand Junction Colo. Its not here any more I thought it was a baby tarantula OMG.

  28. I found one in Kingman AZ this evening also thought at first glance it was a tarantula, that thing is sure fast we have had a lot of heavy rains lately wonder if reason why

    • We know rain is a stimulant to both Tarantula and Trapdoor Spider activity since that is when males travel in search of a mate. We don’t know if rain stimulates Velvet Ants in a similar manner.

  29. Just got stung by one of these picking up my child’s diaper! I’ll say I’d rather stand in a red ant hill for a few seconds than be stung by that thing again..that hurt. -Texas

  30. Walking our dog in a sunny morning cemetery I spied a pale green fuzzy ant (?) a little less than
    5/8 of an inch long, trucking along quite purposefully on the asphalt…It looked like a tiny toy, but no visible legs or eyes…I’ve seen other large “velvet ants” that were red and black, but never this lovely soft green…Sorry to have missed a chance for a photo…Can’t seem to find anything like it
    on any of the bug websites…

  31. I enjoyed all the anecdotal info. I still don’t know very much about the cow killer especially where they create their nests. How large are the nests. I live in central Virginia and see them usually in late July anD August. They are fascinating insects and I have found that they make a noise almost like a scream and you will not likely squash one because they are incredibly tough. I know that most posters do not like to kill any of nature. I too like to observe nature and usually have no desire to kill. But if there is any danger to me or family on my property they will go to insect heaven.

    • Cow Killers do not build nests. According to Texas A&M Agrilife Extension: “Life Cycle: Females seek the immature stages of ground-nesting bees, digging to the nesting chambers and eating a hole through the cocoon. She deposits and egg on the host larva, which soon hatches into a white legless grub. The immature velvet-ant eats the host larva, developing through several larval stages before forming a pupa.” According to BugGuide: “Invades the nest of bumble bees, especially Bombus fraternus. Female finds a host nest, digs down and deposits one egg near brood chamber. Larva enters the host brood chamber, kills host larvae, feeds on them, then pupates in the brood chamber.”

  32. Spotted another of the big fuzzy ants yesterday morning, same general
    location, except it wasn’t a very pretty color, sort of faded, no-
    color…Watched it awhile, to see if it had a mate or companion…
    Fascinating little critter…

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