What Are Velvet Ants?

Often called “cow killers”, velvet ants are small solitary wasps. These insects are common in pastures and woodlands, and often live in areas with sandy soil. Their name comes from their reputation for delivering painful stings.

Velvet ants are characterized by their brilliant colors, and the way their stingers extend far beyond their body. This gives them the nicknames “cow killers” and “red velvet ants”. They are commonly found in southern United States, particularly in the southwestern part of the country. They can be seen in areas of open grasslands and woodlands, in arid climates, and in urban settings. They are most likely to be found during the cooler, daylight hours.

Velvet ants are parasitic wasps, which means that they parasitize their hosts. They lay eggs on the pupae of ground-nesting wasps or bees. The eggs hatch into young larvae, which feed on the developing pupae. The adult velvet ants then enter the nest of the host, and break through the wall. The female ant is then able to lay eggs on the larvae and pupae. The larvae then spin a cocoon, which the host spins within.

Velvet ants are often considered beneficial because they parasitize ground-nesting bees and wasps, but they can also be harmful. Their larvae can be harmful to pollination in high numbers. They can also be a threat to humans, especially those with allergies to wasp stings. Occasionally, they will invade homes and buildings. They may produce a squeaking sound when disturbed.