Velvet Ants, named for their hairy ant-like bodies, are actually more closely related to many wasps than ants. The females are wingless and the males are winged…and the females have a reputation for a very painful sting. According to Justin Schmidt, developer of the Schmidt Pain Index, the sting of the related Glorious Velvet Ant (Dasymutilla gloriosa) is “Instantaneous, like the surprise of being stabbed. Is this what shrapnel feels like?” Keep in mind that they are not aggressive, but certainly don’t try to handle them.
Merrill Peterson, authour of Pacific Northwest Insects, also notes these differences: “Diurnal species are brightly colored, but patterns on males and females in a species may differ a lot, and males may be much larger than females. Nocturnal species are dull brown, In females, the segments of the mesosoma are fused together.” Females are usually found crawling on the ground or vegetation, while males often visit flowers and have been observed taking nectar.
As a group, larvae are ectoparasitoids (a parasite that lives externally on another animal and eventually kills it) of immature insects, especially bees and solitary wasps (also flies, limacodid moths, beetles, and cockroaches).
Size: 5 – 25 mm for the genus
Photo by: Stacey Terrill on 7/25/22 in Dillon, MT