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Velvet Ant

A picture of a Velvet Ant (click to enlarge)
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Photo by:
J.A.L. Cooke/Oxford Scientific Films
Velvet Ant, common name for any of a family of wasps that look like large furry ants. Velvet ants are also known as cowkillers and mulekillers because of the female's long and painful sting. These wasps live primarily in hot, semiarid and desert regions around the world. There are about 470 species in the United States and Canada and 5000 species worldwide. Female velvet ants are wingless.

Most species of velvet ants are black with a dense, velvety covering of white, yellow, golden, orange, or red hairs. Individuals of the same species may be different colors in different regions. Females measure from 6 to 25 mm (0.25 to 1.0 in) in length. Males of almost all species are smaller than the females and have wings. They may be found on flowers. As in all wasps, the males cannot sting. Females, however, can bite and sting. In one of the larger species, the female has a curved stinger that is nearly 6 mm (0.25 in) long. Some species of velvet ants are nocturnal, but many are active during the day. They are conspicuous because of their bright colors.

All North American species of velvet ants are parasites, laying eggs in the nests of bees and other wasps. The female velvet ant enters the host's nest, punctures the host's cocoon, and lays an egg. The velvet ant larva feeds on the mature larva or pupa of the host. It does not consume food stored in the host's nest. Species in other parts of the world also parasitize flies, beetles, butterflies, and moths, in addition to bees and other wasps.

Scientific classification: Velvet ants comprise the family Mutillidae in the order Hymenoptera, which contains bees, wasps, and ants.

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"Velvet Ant," MicrosoftЃ EncartaЃ Online Encyclopedia 2007 © 1997-2007 Microsoft Corporation. All Rights Reserved.