Some people think that dangerous ant species, like imported-red fire ants, cannot be found in the northeast US with the exception of the “cow killer ant.” While it is true that most dangerous ant species inhabit the southern US states only, the notorious cow killer ant is not actually an ant at all. Cow killer ants belong to the wasp family known as Mutillidae. At least 8,000 wasp species belong to this family worldwide, and more than 430 species can be found in southern regions where the climate is relatively dry. However, a few these wasp species, which are well known to deal out painful stings to humans, can be found in the northeast region of the country. For example, the Dasymutilla occidentalis species is abundant in New England, including Massachusetts. This species is commonly referred to as the “eastern velvet ant,” and although it is a wasp species, all Mutillidae species both look and act like ants. It is also worth mentioning that these wasps do not actually kill cows.
The eastern velvet ant is the largest-bodied velvet ant in the United States, and they usually grow to be at least three fourths of an inch in length. Like nearly all cow killer ant species, the eastern velvet ant is covered in bright colors that indicate to other animals that the species should not be preyed upon due to the ant’s toxicity. The roadrunner is the only animal known to consume cow killer ants. The eastern velvet ant’s color pattern consists of brownish-orange and black stripes, making it a conspicuous part of its habitat. There exists some disagreement about the wasp’s’ sting, as some sources claim that cow killer ants inflict the most painful stings of any wasp species, while others claim that the ant’s venom is not particularly painful, and that the genus is misunderstood. There exists good evidence to suggest that cow killer ant stings are quite painful, due to many reputable reports by trained entomologists who purposely sustained the wasp’s sting. Cow killer ants can be found near creeks, meadows, sandy landscapes and wooded areas.
Have you ever spotted a cow killer ant species?