Beware of the ‘Cow Killer’ or Red Velvet Ant
by Sue Allen
October 10, 2013 10:11 PM | 3404 views | 0 0 comments | 56 56 recommendations | email to a friend | print
I was talking to my neighbor the other day and she told me she came across a Red Velvet Ant in her yard and when she went to kill it, it made a loud squealing sound. I had never heard of a red velvet ant, let alone seen one. Therefore, I decided to do some research. Well, I found out a Red Velvet Ant is not an ant at all, but one of 150 species of the Dasymutilla occidentalis (Linneaeus) wasps in North America. Some nicknames for the Red Velvet Ant are “Cow Killer” or “Mule Killer.”

The female Red Velvet Ant is three-fourths inches long, black body with patches of fine orange-red hair on the body and wingless. It does look similar to an ant, but much bigger, hairy and very fast moving. Also, they have a straight antennae, unlike the ant which has a curved antennae. The male looks similar to the female, but has wings and cannot sting. However, they will pretend to sting you. The female can sting, and like all wasps, will sting you several times leaving you in excruciating pain for up to an hour ­— hence “Cow Killer.” Unless you have an allergy to wasp stings, you won’t die.

They become active the end of June through early October, preferring temperatures between 70 and 96 degrees, and some will overwinter in the ground in their dormant state. The Red Velvet Ant is a loner and does not nest in a colony such as ants or other bees.

When mating season arrives, the male’s wings are used to seek out its mate by vision as well as pheromones. Both sexes produce the squeaking chirp during the mating process.

Red Velvet Ants can be good insects to have in your yard because they prey on yellow jackets and other ground-nesting bees. Once the female has become fertilized, she will burrow a tunnel in the ground and lay her egg in a bee’s cocoon. If she should come upon a ground-nesting bee or wasp, her exterior hard shell will prevent them from stinging her. When the egg hatches, the red velvet ant larva eats the host. Because the host is in a resting stage, it cannot defend itself.

The Red Velvet Ant is not aggressive, and if approached will make a squeaky chirp to scare off its predators. Since they feed off nectar, you will find them in flower gardens. In the snake world, the saying “red touching black a friend of Jack, red touching yellow kill a fella,” but in this case red touching black is not a friend of Jack. A word of advice: Don’t go barefoot in your garden, and be careful in your yard. Also show your children what they look like and warn them not to pick them up or try to play with them.

I found information about the Red Velvet Ant from the following websites:;

Information about Extension Solutions for Homes and Gardens can be found on the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension website, ; or contact the Cherokee County Extension Office, 1130 Bluffs Parkway, Suite G49, Canton, GA, 30114, 770-721-7803. The Georgia Master Gardener Extension Volunteer Program is a volunteer training program offered through county offices of the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension.

Comments-icon Post a Comment
No Comments Yet
*We welcome your comments on the stories and issues of the day and seek to provide a forum for the community to voice opinions. All comments are subject to moderator approval before being made visible on the website but are not edited. The use of profanity, obscene and vulgar language, hate speech, and racial slurs is strictly prohibited. Advertisements, promotions, spam, and links to outside websites will also be rejected. Please read our terms of service for full guides