Cow Killer Ant

Cow killer ant, also known as the red velvet ant, is the common name for Dasymutilla occidentalis. Although these common names suggest this insect is an ant, it is actually a solitary wasp, so it does not live in a colony.

The female is wingless, hairy and colored red and black. The males look similar to the females, except they have two pair of dark colored wings.

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.

Adults feed on nectar, while the larval stages are parasites of ground bees and wasps.

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.

Cow killer wasp females have a very toxic sting, but males do not sting.

Cow killers do not actually kill cows. However, females have a very painful sting that legends incorrectly say 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.

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

Since cow killers are not aggressive, do not commonly live in areas frequented by people and cause no damage, control efforts are not normally required.