LJWorld.com weblogs Dangerous Ideas

Cow Killer!


Several people have reported seeing these wonderful insects over the last couple of days. These are sometimes called velvet ants. They are not ants but mutillid wasps. The females are wingless and usually brightly colored-orange or orange and black, though a few are grey. The males are winged. The females are enter the burrows of ground nesting bees and wasps and lay their eggs on or near the larvae of their host. The eggs hatch and the Mutlillid larvae feed on the host's larvae.

Mutillids can pack a powerful sting-especially the one pictured here. That probably is the origin of the other common name as a figure of speech- "Cow Killer." The females are extremely active and never seem to stop moving so it is difficult to get a decent picture of them. Fortunately I had a plastic lid to a lens filter handy and was able to trap this one long enough to get a good shot.


Leslie Swearingen 5 years, 6 months ago

Um professor I have a few questions. Are the females wingless because that gives them an unique niche to themselves so they have less competation? Do the males of the species only see orange and black so that is the females way of luring them in the right direction so to speak? Are the grey ones mutants and are they ever kicked out of the hive? Are they workers? What if, the military, or someone, bioengineered the wasps to carry a potent biohazzard? Could it be done? Wouldn't people see it as an allergy to wasp sting until it was too late?

notaubermime 5 years, 6 months ago

They enter the burrows of ground nesting bees and wasps. Wings would get in the way.

Orange and black are aposematic colors.

Mutilids (such as this cow killer) are solitary wasps. No hives or workers.

Paul Decelles 5 years, 6 months ago

Aposematic coloration by the way is what people often think of as warning coloration-think coral snakes as another example. The grey ones I mentioned are different species-I don't know if they are found around here. Wings probably get in the way when the females enter nests. The other interesting thing about these wasps is that they have an extremely hard exoskeleton which may protect them from the stings of their hosts.

Paul Decelles 5 years, 6 months ago


Let's not give the military any more ideas. They are already studying insects to guide the development of small drones for spying and even trying to control real insects for this purpose: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/31906641/ns/technology_and_science-science/t/military-developing-robot-insect-cyborgs/#.UBXrOKNSQfg

Leslie Swearingen 5 years, 6 months ago

I saw what you did there. LOL If you just glance at it, then ///

Leslie Swearingen 5 years, 6 months ago

Now I am totally confused because the more I look at this picture the more I wonder. Is this a group of chicks? I thought at first that tange had photoshopped it. This cannot be a caterpillar, I mean look at the tails, but then where are the eyes? These birds have no eyes?
Paul please tell me what I am looking at.

Katara 5 years, 6 months ago

I was hoping this might be the big wasp/hornet/yellowjacket thing I've been seeing flying around but it doesn't look like it.

It is very large and it hovers around you but it does not seem aggressive. It is about the size of your ring finger and about as big around. It is kind of reddish brown with stripes. You can hear it buzz/or hum (probably its wings) when it is around.

Any ideas?

RoeDapple 5 years, 6 months ago

Wood bees. Look similar to a bumble bee?

Katara 5 years, 6 months ago

No, but I have those too. They crack me up. It always looks like they have one too many & decided to fly home.

Paul Decelles 5 years, 6 months ago

I agree with SteamPunque-sounds like a cicada killer. Does what you see match SteamPunque's pictures?

SteamPunque 5 years, 6 months ago

Katara; it's probably a "Cicada Killer" (Sphecius speciosus).

They are not very aggressive (unless you happen to be a Cicada), but look fearsome and are one of largest wasps seen in this area:


Katara 5 years, 6 months ago

I think that is it! I must have a couple of males flying around because the "waist" isn't nipped in as much as the picture of the female.

notaubermime 5 years, 6 months ago

I love mutillids. They are so fuzzy and cute. Some really cool spider mimics of mutillids as well.

riverdrifter 5 years, 6 months ago

I like those cicada killers. One time when I was a kid I was holding a cicada between my thumb and forefinger making it buzz and fully intending to turn it loose. A cicada killer zeroed in on the sound, snatched it out of my fingers and flew off with it. Now, there is some panache.

Leslie Swearingen 5 years, 6 months ago

When my granddaughter was five we found a monarch caterpillar and put it on a house plant. We watched it build a cocoon, it was green with what looked like a golden zipper down the side. When it was fully changed the cocoon turned black and soft and the butterfly emerged. We watched it dry its wings and then took it outside and watched it fly away. Very cool experience for both of us.

Paul Decelles 5 years, 6 months ago

Good for you. That's the kind of experience that a lot of kids don't get anymore.

Leslie Swearingen 5 years, 6 months ago

"I hate cows worse than I hate Catholics!" This is a totally different look at George Clooney, miles away from Vegas thats fer sure.

Leslie Swearingen 5 years, 6 months ago

There are no horseflies, those are Tinkerbell's mates in disguise having a wee bit of fun. Do you clap your hands?

Commenting has been disabled for this item.