The Velvet Ant
Its not an ant. And its not made of velvet.
Its a Mutilladae, which is a family of more than 3,000 species of wasps. Er, yes, its a wasp, not an ant. Females lack wings, and also its the females that have a stinger.
I have found a few of these in Hong Kong, often running somewhat erratically on the ground, on bare and sandy areas, and around the plant pots.
And be careful, this has a really, really nasty sting….so don’t pick it up! The sting is said to rate a a 3 on the Schmidt pain index and lasts up to 30 minutes, and is called a “cow killer” in Texas. Of course there are some youtube videos of guys being stung (for science? For clicks!). Why is it always guys that do this?
Velvet, because they are fuzzy, and ant, because they look like a big ant, but unlike true ants, they are solitary, and lack complex social systems.
The exoskeleton of all velvet ants is unusually tough, which allows them to avoid predation, and also allows them to successfully invade the nests of their prey, which are ground nesting bees or wasps. After mating, the female Velvet digs into the nesting chambers of ground-nesting bees and wasps, and deposits one egg near each larva or pupa. Mutillid larvae then develop, eventually killing their immobile larval/pupal hosts within a week or two, spinning their cocoon inside the host.
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