Demystifying Red Velvet Ants: The Buzz on the Fuzz

Some call them red velvet ants. Some call them cow killers. Most don’t call them what they really are: wasps.

Have you seen a fuzzy red bug that looks like an ant walking around lately? Check out our blog for the buzz on the fuzz! There’s a great buzz in Middle Tennessee over a pretty little bug called by a variety of names.

Red velvet ants

If you’ve seen a fuzzy red thing walking around on the sidewalk or in your yard lately, it’s probably a female red velvet ant. When left alone, they aren’t looking to threaten humans. However, when picked up and toyed with, a threat may emerge.

When most people see something fuzzy, they think, “Aww, cute! I want to touch it.” However, when it comes to velvet ants, it is not recommended that you pick them up, because they may sting you. And, if something can be called a cow killer, it’s sting hurts…a lot!

Velvet ants are wasps that cannot actually fly. They feed on the cocoons of ground-nesting bees. Essentially, the mama velvet ant bores a hole in the cocoon of bees nesting underground and lays her eggs inside the cocoon. Then, when the velvet ant eggs hatch, they prey on the eggs in the cocoon.

Interesting, huh? Wasps killing bees in a dynamic, underground battle.

In an even more interesting twist, velvet ants often prey on cicada killers. A cicada killer is a large wasp that preys on cicadas. Female cicada killers capture cicadas, sting them, and then place them in holes they’ve borrowed into the ground. As their young hatch, they feed on the burrowed cicada.

That shifts our food chain paradigm to wasps killing bees and/or other wasps who kill cicadas.

Is your head swirling yet? Or is that just the buzz of all of these insects swarming around in your yard preying on each other? 🙂

If you’ve got a question, please post a comment. As always, you can find us on Facebook at Facebook.com/TheBugManTN.