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.
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 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