The Red Velvet Ant
I’ve witnessed one. And I’ll never forget that day. Nor will I regret killing it.
I was telling a couple of friends of the story yesterday. It still tops the chart of the most interesting insect I’ve ever seen, and I told them had I been blogging back then there would’ve certainly been a 4-5 page blog about it. I figure, better late than never!
Several years back when I still lived at my old house, I pulled up our steeply inclined driveway and there it was. A little over an inch long, there was this monstrous-looking bright red and black striped segmented body taking a gingerly walk on the driveway. I got out of the car and immediately ran inside for the bug killer (sorry folks – if I had a do-over I’d reach for the bug-killer again). Back outside, this ‘thing’ had made it’s way over to the edging in between the driveway and our well-manicured lawn in an attempt to hide.
The monster’s coloring was so bright it looked fake, but I was quickly reminded wasn’t once it started charging me. The hairs were long and fine, and looked so soft, like velvet. I dared not get to close because the thing ran so fast towards me, I would’ve probably had a coronary if it had reached me and stung. I had to get closer to even start spraying, and when I did what I heard about made me faint. The thing was screaming. Later, upon reading up on them I found they do this when threatened. Well, I was threatening it all right – I’m just glad this thing didn’t know how scared I was. I finally got close enough to start spraying the bug killer – at first it didn’t phase the creature.
Once it started working, I didn’t let up. (All God’s creatures? Nuh.)
The ‘red velvet ant’, also called a ‘cow killer’ is actually a wasp, and is a member of the Mutillidae family. The female is wingless, which is what I encountered. They range in size from 1/8″ to a little over 1″. The two largest ones are the Satan’s (appropriately named, wouldn’t ya say?) one being black with a yellowish-white abdomen and the other red and black. The males have wings but no stingers, while the females have stingers but lack wings. Don’t let the looks deceive you – even though they look soft and silky, the heavy outer covering of body functions as a suit of armor and can only be penetrated with great difficulty.
These ‘ants’ (remember though, they’re wasps) vary in color. On the west coast, they are generally white, central America, they appear orange and black, and on the east coast (primarily the southern states) they are bright to crimson red and black.