Cow Killer Ant

Facts, Identification, & Control

Scientific Name

Dasymutilla occidentalis

Appearance

What Do They Look Like?

  • Characteristics: One of the most observable differences between ants and wasps is that ants have elbowed or L-shaped antennae, while wasp antennae are normally straight or C-shaped.
  • Females: The female is wingless, hairy, and colored red and black.
  • Males: The males look similar to the females, except they have two pairs of dark colored wings.

How Did I Get Cow Killer Ants?

Cow killer ants, often called velvet ants, live in open, sunny areas like lawns, gardens, pastures, and non-shaded areas of forests. These red and black colored insects are wasps, not true ants, and they attack bumblebee hives and other insect nests to lay their eggs. Cow killer ants don’t usually infest homes but can accidentally wander into buildings.

How Serious Are Cow Killer Ants?

These insects do not cause damage and the males of the species do not sting, but females have a very toxic sting that can be extremely painful.

Can They Kill Cows?
Cow killers do not actually kill cows. However, legends incorrectly say its sting is strong enough to “kill a cow.” The cow killer is not aggressive, but will produce a severe sting if stepped on or handled. If cow killers are found where you live, avoid walking outside without shoes.

How Do I Get Rid of Cow Killer Ants?

What You Can Do
Since cow killers don’t make their own nests or form colonies and do not commonly live in areas frequented by people, control efforts are not normally required.

What Orkin Does
Your local Orkin technician is trained to help manage cow killer ants and similar pests. Since every building or home is different, your Orkin technician will design a unique program for your situation.

Orkin can provide the right solution to keep cow killer ants in their place…out of your home, or business.


Behavior, Diet, & Habits

What Do They Eat?
Adults feed on nectar, while the larval stages are parasites of ground bees and wasps.

Where Do They Live?
Their preferred habitats are pastures and the edges of forests. In urban and suburban areas, cow killers are seen crawling through lawn vegetation, digging around in the soil, or perhaps in garages where they have wandered in by accident.

Geographic Range
The range of the cow killer is from the east coast of Florida to Connecticut and westward to Missouri and Texas.

Reproduction
Female cow killer wasps dig into the nests of these bees and wasps, and lay their eggs on the larvae inside the nest. When the eggs hatch, the larvae consume their host, then spit its pupal case on its host.