Ants In Florida
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It was very difficult to get this picture. This 1" long female velvet ant is so shy she just wants to run away and hide. I couldn't get my tape measure near her, but she is the size of my little finger. Eventually, she did find a place to hide where I couldn't find her.

Velvet ants are actually wasps. They live alone, I know she is a female because she doesn't have any wings, males have short wings. Males are slightly darker, sometimes described as wine red, and fly around hunting, sometimes around other males. She is covered with fine red hair, but don't try to catch or pet her.

The 1" long velvet ants are also called "cow killers" because their sting is said to be painful enough to  "kill a cow".  Their sting doesn't do permanent damage and is not life threatening, and I have had several readers report that it is not any more painful than any other wasp sting. These wasps are timid and run away from you like crazy, but if you corner them they can sting you.

The old literature says that:

 Velvet ants live alone and feed on ground dwelling bees and wasps. So they help keep down the population of some REALLY nasty swarms of stingers.  They burro into the nests and lay their eggs, when the larvae hatch they eat the host's larvae along with any food the host delivers for it's own young. So, if you see velvet ants, there is probably an underground wasp nest or bee nest somewhere close.  Be careful, because swarms come out of underground nests when they are disturbed.

We have observed them hauling grasshoppers, beetles and spiders into their burros. 

 

   

 The Velvet Ant BLog

Lots of folks write in with their questions and observations, so we have decided to try and publish them for all to see.

Here is a start...

-----Original Message-----

 From: Walt_Rickard

Sent: Thursday, September 10, 2009 8:10 PM

 To: info@ideva.com

 Subject: recent cow killer sighting

  I've been in Florida for 30 years and I saw my first red velvet ant today. a friend of mine was pulling weeds from around an oak tree in her junkyard in Pasco when I saw it crawl away. it was 1" or more. being a carpenter i am a fairly good judge of measurement. I didn't think that they grew this big but one of her employees said he had  killed them much bigger. my concern after reading your site is not the ant but what ever she was feeding on. if she was there, there has to  be something right?

thanks for any additional info,

Walt 

-------------

On Fri, Sep 11, 2009 at 8:00 AM, Marnie Hutcheson  wrote:

 Hi Walt,

 The females are laying their eggs just now.  Somewhere she has a burro.  She eats an enormous amount of insects, I think grass hoppers are their favorites, but they also like beetles and maybe spiders. You shouldn't kill them.  We have noticed that the ants (especially the  fire ants) stay away from their burros.

 I have been watching the males (also red and black, but nowhere near as big as the females) bring grasshoppers to their burros in my barn.  They like sandy soil for their burros.  He drags the grasshopper down the hole and heads out immediately for more.  She comes out only  rarely. I am not sure if she ever comes out after she teams up with a mate. -- She is busy laying eggs in those grasshoppers, and digging  new burros.  I could be wrong, but we have seen both males and females at the burros.

I wish I knew more about them.  They have been nesting in the sand in the center aisle and the north end of my barn for years, we are used to their burros, but it was only this year that I was able to observe the velvet ants and their activities.

I am really chaffing about the "cow-killer" moniker.  These are polite and shy, beneficial insects who mind their own business and only become aggressive if they are threatened.  Their bite is no more painful than other wasps, and they are loners.  I have small hive wasps in my woods that swarm their victims when angered; they do some serious damage to anyone, human, animal, or insect, who crosses their path.  I had a surveyor attacked by them on my preserve. He wound up in the hospital; covered in bites; poor guy. 

Marnie

 

 

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