Filed under: Nature & Wildlife
Beware Red Velvet Ants (Actually a Wasp) – Not Desirable Bedfellows.
According to his tale, these red velvet-like creatures of the insect kingdom could crawl up the legs of a grazing cow and inflict a sting so severe that the cow would run madly about before dropping dead.
I don’t know that any of his cows actually succumbed to a Cow Killer, but it made a good story.
In any event, these critters are not welcome guests in a camper’s bedroll.
For years, I thought they were indeed “ants”. But, I learned later in life that they were actually wasps. The females do not have wings – the males do. The females have a stinger like other wasps that can repeatedly inflict an extremely painful toxin that will make you wish you were going to die. But, surprisingly, the males do not sting.
We live in the eastern part of the United States (Virginia) and have an extremely sandy soil around our brick and mortar dwelling. The summer has been unusually hot and the presence of these creatures more common than in previous years.
After finding some in our house, around the pool deck and scurrying across the yard, I decided to investigate them further.
Apparently, they are most common in the eastern part of the country. But, Texas, Mexico and California have similar insects that can vary in color from red to blue. All grow to be about 3/4″ long and prefer a solitary life.
For several years, I carefully watched a bumblebee nest adjacent to the fence dividing our house from a neighboring soybean field. This year, the bumblebees disappeared. While I have no proof, I strongly suspect these wasps entered the bumblebee nest and laid their eggs on the pupa of the ground-nesting bees, killing the hive in the process. I guess I owe them some gratitude for their act, as I no longer have to deal with the bumblebee swarms when I mow near their former home. I can only hope they have also found and destroyed the Yellow Jacket nests that frequent our soil.
So, here is the deal: They are not ants; their scientific name is Dasymutilla occidentalis (Linnaeus). There are over 150 different species of Dasymutilla, the genus of red velvet ants to which our red velvet ant, or Dasymutilla occidentalis wasps, belongs to scattered across North America. None is what I would call “a good bedfellow”.
If you encounter one of these creatures while camping it is best to leave it alone – that is unless it is in your tent or crawling up your leg.
HAPPY CAMPING TRAILS TO ALL!
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