Velvet Ant (Mutillidae)

Velvet Ants are a family of more than 3,000 species of wasps (despite the names) whose wingless females resemble large, hairy ants. Their common name velvet ant refers to their dense pile of hair which most often is bright scarlet or orange, but may also be black, white, silver, or gold. Black and white specimens are sometimes known as panda ants due to their hair coloration resembling that of the Chinese giant panda. Their bite is told to be awfully painful.


“Thistledown Velvet Ant” (Dasymutilla sackenii)

Also known as Sackeni’s velvet ant, the thistledown velvet ant is a species of velvet ant (Mutiliidae) that is native to the western United States and Mexico. Although D. sackenii is commonly referred to as an ant it is in-fact a ‘wingless’ wasp. Like other velvet wasps only the females of D. sackenii are wingless and can inflict a painful sting if threatened.


Animalia-Arthropoda-Insecta-Hymenoptera-Pompiloidea-Mutilidae-Dasymutilia-D. sackenii

Images: Steven R. Morris and Gary McDonald

Female Velvet Ant (Mutillidae, Hymenoptera)

Easily mistaken for a colourful ant by appearance and name, this is in fact a wasp of the family Mutillidae. The females are wingless and hence the common name of velvet ant, in conjunction with the thick usually brightly coloured pile of hair many species bear. The male is typically wasp-like in appearance.

Females lay their eggs in the nests of other insects, typically a ground-nesting bee such as a bumblebee or wasp nest. Her young then develop as idiobiont ectoparasitoids, eventually killing their immobile larval/ pupal hosts.

As in all Hymenoptera, only the female is capable of inflicting a sting, but in the case of the Mutillidae, that sting is reputed to be intensely painful. This unenviable feature has earned them the colloquial name of “cow killers” or cow ants.

External image

by Sinobug (itchydogimages) on Flickr.
Pu'er, Yunnan, China

See more Chinese Hymenopterans (wasps, hornets, bees, ants and sawflies) on my Flickr site HERE…..
Made with Flickr

Family Mutillidae

(velvet ants)

velvet ants or cow killers despite their name are not ants and actually are a family of wasps. They probably get the name ant due to their lack of wings (males have wings but look completely different) and appearance (even though ants and wasps are related), they get the name velvet from their dense and bright colored hair. They are also known for their extremely painful stings which is where the name cow killer comes from. although they usually feed on nectar after a female mates with a male she will infiltrate another insect nest and lay here eggs there, the young will develop as ectoparasites and kill their hosts after a matter of time. Velvet ants can be found worldwide but are most common in North America and parts of Central america.




“Just wanted to share a few wasp pictures  :) . All pictures where taken by me in Yorktown Va.

The red and black Wingless Wasp was super fast crawling on the ground.”-steve gumby

If you did not know that this was a female Velvet Ant, then calling it a flightless wasp was very astute of you, most people assume them to be true ants.  Velvet Ant females are flightless wasps, while the males are winged.  These girls pack a powerful sting, and should never be handled.  It’s a shame because it’s so tempting, considering how darn cute they are.  I used to have a few as pets that I fed maple syrup, they made cute noises. 



Hymenoptera - Family Mutillidae (Velvet Ants) - Ephuta Adult 5mm

I am not sure why the antenna are curled in this one. A first of this kind for me.

All female Mutillidae are wingless and resemble ants.  The metasoma (abdomen) contains six visible terga (dorsal surface of any body segment) and a “felt line” of dense, closely appressed hairs is located laterally on the second metasomatic tergum (except for the genus Ephuta

Other Common Names - Solitary Ants- Pronunciation: mew-TILL-ih-dee

“Velvet Ant” refers to the hairy nature and the body form like that of ants.

Numbers ~480 spp. in our area,about 8,000 spp. in 230 genera/subgenera worldwide

Food Adults (males at least) are observed taking nectar.

Life Cycle : ectoparasitoids of immature insects, esp. bees and solitary wasps (also flies, limacodid moths, beetles, and cockroaches).

Remarks can give an excruciating sting if handled


Two Heads and Four Eyes????

Velvet Ant Pair (Trogaspidia suspiciosa, Mutillidae, Hymenoptera)

This is a phenomenal family of wasps. The first impression from this image is predator and prey but in fact it is the larger winged male grasping the smaller wingless female in its jaws in the mating process. The size disparity is reversed from the traditional gender difference amongst insects and spiders.

They are wasps and not ants as the name implies. The common name comes from the females resemblance to an ant (wingless) and the thick usually brightly colored pile of hair many species bear.

The male locates a female on the wing and mates. The female then enters an insect nest, typically a ground-nesting bee such as a bumblebee or wasp nest, and deposits one egg near each larva or pupa. Her young then develop as idiobiont ectoparasitoids, eventually killing their immobile larval/pupal hosts within a matter of days.

As in all Hymenoptera, only the female is capable of inflicting an extremely painful sting, said to be strong enough to kill a cow, hence the common name cow killer or cow ant is applied to some species. (HILARIOUS)

Pu'er, Yunnan, China

See more Chinese Hymenoptera on my Flickr site HERE…..


*squeals* new baby! She was supposed to be for my collection for class (preserving and displaying), she wasn’t supposed to be alive. But she is and I can’t kill her. Her name is Bonnie and she is mine now.

She’s a pretty little thing in the order Hymenoptera, along with wasps, bees, and ants. Bonnie here, while commonly called a velvet ant, is not an ant, she is actually a wasp.

You know she’s female because she doesn’t have wings, whereas the males do, and only the females sting, since they possess the ovipositor (which is also used to lay eggs) to do so.

They’re a parasitoid, meaning Bonnie here would lay her eggs on a host, however, lacking a host and a male, she probably won’t end up multiplying (probably).


Dasymutilla aureola

…is a species of velvet ant (Mutillidae) that is native to western North America. Although it is called a “velvet ant” and looks superficially similar to an ant D. aureola is actually a species of wingless wasp. Like other velvet ants only the females are wingless, male D. aureola have wings. Females are also capable of inflicting a very painful sting. Like other members of mutillidae D. aureola is likely an ectoparasitoid of bees and solitary wasps.


Animalia-Arthropoda-Insecta-Hymenoptera-Pompiloidea-Mutillidae-Dasymutilla-D. aureola

Images: Gary McDonald and Hartmut Wisch

“What is this bug?? I live in Arizona and I went to Sedona to this creek and we saw this. It’s body is striped white and black I think and it was super fuzzy! It just free fell off some rocks and kept on running. It was do cute. But what is it?”- darkness

Ah!  Your little Velvet Ant is so cute!  Velvet ants are actually wasps- the females are flightless (like yours) and have a VERY painful sting.  Males are harmless and winged.  There are many different colors of velvet ants- and I have never seen a white one in the wild.  She looks like a mini-panda or something. 

. And yes! This is more specifically the thistle down velvet ant.

Learn from buggirl?


Velvet ant, Hoplomutilla sp., not an ant, but a wingless wasp, additional photos in higher resolution at


I also bought these adorable Velvet Ants.  They are actually female flightless wasps native to our desert areas.  They are sometimes called cowkillers b/c it is rumored their sting is so painful it could kill a cow.  I won’t be handling these girls and have my tweezers ready for any necessary re-locations.  They eat organic maple syrup.  Nature can be so cruel sometimes, how can something be so cute, fuzzy and snuggly looking but you can’t even touch it?