Over the last two months I have been sharing pictures of very large hot-air balloons in the sky. Today we are turning our eyes to the ground to something small.
Red Velvet Ants , aka Cowkillers [Dasymutilla aureola pacifica] are common insects in the Southwestern United States. Actually, they are not ants at all. They are wasps.
This image is of is a female, which is why her form is wingless. She has stingers and the bright orangey-red color of the hairs on her body indicate a conspicuous warning that the creature should be avoided. The sting of a red velvet ant is said to be strong enough to kill a cow! Although they look soft and pettable, that would be inadvisable.
Lone females can be found crawling on the ground, particularly in open sandy areas, just like the one in today’s post. I found it in an arroyo in Albuquerque, NM.
Females seek the immature stages of ground-nesting bees, digging to the nesting chambers and eating a hole through the cocoon. Since she’s a parasite, next she deposits an egg on the host larva, which soon hatches into a white legless grub. The immature velvet-ant eats the host larva, developing through several larval stages before forming a pupa.