Friday, October 7, 2011

Meet the Cow Killer

I was doing an inspection of a sandy construction site and then I saw her scampering across the ground.

I know you.  I know what you do.  And I'm going to let you walk right on by.

Meet the Cow Killer, or Velvet Ant.  We only see them occasionally in Maryland, but if you go to a place with warm water and hot sandy soil, you will probably find velvet ants.  And they sting.  Big time. Which is because they aren't actually ants at all, but wasps.   Nasty crawling wasps!

Much like the honey badger (see how I worked that in?), the velvet ant don't play. And like its cousin the yellow jacket, the velvet ant can sting repeatedly, and it does.  Luckily, the velvet ant's venom is about 10% as strong as the yellow jacket's - so in reality it's not a cow killer at all.

Now...that being whallops a real punch, registering three out of four on the Schmidt Sting Pain index, and the Starr Sting Pain Scale, basically more painful than a yellow jacket and less painful than the truly awful bullet ant. Or as Schmidt describes it, "like pouring acid on a paper cut." 

The velvet ant prefers loose sandy soil near fresh water.  Like most insects, it shows up because the habitat is available.  Killing velvet ants is a really short term solution to their presence, as long as there is loose sand for them to live please give them a wide berth!

And if you want to watch some dumbasses getting stung by bullet ants, and who doesn't?, then watch this.


swamp4me said...

We have tons of these. They aren't aggressive and pretty much ignore you as they scurry about looking for the cocoons of ground-nesting bees. Such a pretty parasite!

biobabbler said...

BLESS you for posting links to those sting pain scales. I didn't know about them, and recently was stung by a (probable) paper wasp, which wasn't that bad. Anyhow, been stung by at least 4 species, now, including scorpion, so wanna look it all up. Nothing was all THAT bad, though.

Yes, I've heard velvet ants are CRAZY painful. Yours is SO BEAUTIFUL! Ours don't have that cool dark stripe on the bum.

And thanks for the killing-them-won't-really-work. It's amazing how many people don't know this. =) I'm hesitating re: bullet bee video... we'll see. =)

e.m.b. said...

You made honey badgers fit into a post about velvet ants. Mad skills! ;)

biobabbler said...

omg, check out and read about: The Satere-Mawe people of Brazil use intentional bullet ant stings as part of their initiation rites to become a warrior.

It is in SANE!

Kirk Mantay said...

Bio - did you check out the link? It's two of the guys from Jackass, attempting to perform that ritual. They didn't make it the entire 10 minutes, and ended up in the hospital in Sao Paolo or wherever they were.

Swamp - I agree. Unlike most wasp species, these ladies will work hard to avoid you.

Erin, honey badger eats larvae. Eww. It's eating larvae.

Kirk Mantay said...

Quotes from the video (edited for TV, so it's basically SFW) include,



"Thanks to the stupid Glove of Ants, we're in the freaking emergency room again."

T. Chris said...

Dude! Those ants are serious pain. I give them all the room they want. They were all over the place where I grew up in Oklahoma. My college entomology professor told a story about how neat he thought they looked until he picked it up and the ant jabbed its huge stinger into his finger!

Alex said...


You left out the part about them being indestructible. I stomped one into oblivion while out hunting one day only for it to wander off perfectly fine.

I also had to pin one once for an entomology class and proceeded to bend the needle rather than pierce the bug.

LB @ Bullets And Biscuits said...

We have these dudes everywhere in our backyard. We were told they were "fire ants" because they were "red". We didn't really care what kind of ants they were, we just wanted them gone since we had pets and kids running around the yard. We have tried everything under the sun to get rid of them and to no avail, they are still running around. I had no idea they were the infamous cow ants. Thanks for posting!

Kirk Mantay said...

Alex - when I was looking for other pictures of them (b/c mine isn't great), several of them were display specimens that looked like they were crushed. Thick exo!

LB - unless you try to crush one of these in your hand (which I do not advise), these are basically the opposite of fire ants. These things hurt but they are solitary and not very venomous at all. They will not gang up on a pet or child.

Fire ants on the other hand...NUKE EM.

Anonymous said...

Do Cow ants or cow killers or solitary wasps have venom and how strong is it?

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