A Red Velvet Ant Stops in for Lunch

I stumbled upon my second Red Velvet Ant/Cow Killer of the summer. Recent storms dislodged a hummingbird feeder and the spilled sugar-water fanned out across a wide area.  In the middle of the pattern of nectar were tachinind flies, yellow jackets, a multitude of ants and one solitary Red Velvet Ant.sticky cow killer

Thinking she would quickly scurry away, mister gardener rushed my camera to me.  But we were mistaken.  This gal wasn’t going anywhere.  She was covered in the sticky sugary solution with bits of sand and debris stuck everywhere to her body, a comical sight. When I moved, she would dash under a leaf but she emerged seconds later and continued to wade into the pools of nectar, consuming as she strolled.  If I leaned too close, she would tilt her head sideways to look at me and raise her abdomen in a threatening way.  Around and around she circled, avoiding other insects as she gorged on puddles of hummingbird nectar, occasionally stopping to clean her antennae.

a sticky red velvet ant eyes the camera

A Virginia Tech entomologist recently answered my questions about the insect. After a previous post about the Red Velvet Ant in our Virginia gardens, comments came from Delaware to Georgia, Tennessee and Maryland questioning the increased presence of this wasp.  My 2-part question to the entomologist:  “Why are there more sightings of the Red Velvet Ant/Cow Killer wasp and are they common in northern states, like Delaware?”  His two word answer: “Global Warming.”  He added that the Red Velvet Ant is a tropical insect and more common to Texas.  In recent years, we have not experienced the long hard winter freezes that would kill the insect so their territories are expanding. On BugGuide.net, sightings has been reported as far north as Rhode Island and New Jersey and west to Illinois and Nebraska.

But I have seen more ground wasps, too.  It’s possible that our female is simply following her offsprings’ food source, the ground nesting cicada wasp whose painful sting I have experienced.  Without the solitary Red Velvet Ant, perhaps we would have an overabundance of those other stinging insects. I’d like to believe she is helping to balance the wasp and bee population and I’ll allow her to go on her way.

Check out the first Red Velvet Ant I saw.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

15 thoughts on “A Red Velvet Ant Stops in for Lunch

  1. She is elegant in her Chinese red and jet black velvet coat. Timely, too, since GCV’s Conservation Committee will be presenting a powerpoint program on climate change to member clubs this year.

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  2. I stepped on one of these in Northern Delaware when I was a kid. This was in the mid 70’s…so we’ve had them in DE for a long time already.

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    • I hope you were wearing shoes when you stepped on one! If not, how bad was the sting? I’ve seen them in Virginia since I was a child…err..a few years before you, so I’m not surprised they were in Delaware as well. From what an entomologist told me, numbers of the insect are increasing.

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  3. Saw one of these at Tribble Mill Park about 40 miles from Atlanta. Beautiful.. Glad we did not know how painful the bite was – had my 12 yr old granddaughter with me and she would have been terrified if she had known that it was a wasp, not an ant.

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    • They may prey upon ground nesting bumblebees but they do not harm honey bees. Experts advise us not to kill the red velvet ant as they do serve a purpose in nature.

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  4. I first saw a red velvet ant 23 years ago. I’ve never thought of these as rare to IL, nor do I believe there are any more or less of them. Id get a second opinion 🙂

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    • Hi Lindsey, I believe you are referring to another post where a Virginia entomologist stated that the wasps could be expanding territory due to global warming. Although I never saw an increase in numbers in Virginia, my original post on the wasp brought such a response of first sightings that I thought it best to contact an entomologist. I think your suggestion is a good one. I live in a different state now and I’ll seek another entomological opinion. You could be very right….

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  5. Today for the first time I saw a red velvet ant on my front porch and I live in Delaware. I was so curious about this insect I had never seen before I had to google it. She is beautiful and I will keep an eye out for her because of the sting. Also the other insect I experienced this year that I never saw before was a Lone star tick. Boh my husband I had to remove them from our bodies. Again so unusual looking I googled and found they are rare to our area.

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