Posts tagged with Insects
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.
You may have noticed these large wasps flying around and making burrows in loose soil.
They may look fierce and frightening but they are actually not very aggressive. These are Cicada Killers and the female digs burrows in loose soil and she provisions the nest with cicadas that she paralyzes by stinging them before carrying them to the burrow. It is possible to be stung by these wasps but you have to little put your hand on one to get stung-which is a pretty stupid thing to do. The sting hurts momentarily and the site doesn't seem to swell as a hornet or paper wasp sting does.
How do I know this? Well, guess who was stupid.
At The University of Kansas they used to aggregate around the entrance of Strong Hall - the entrance facing Snow Hall. I haven't checked to see if they are still nesting there.
Here is a pretty good summary of the natural history of these wasps:
You can control them with chemicals but there really doesn't seem any reason to do this from my way of thinking. Supposedly cultural practices like improving your turf in areas where they nest help, but I rather have the wasps myself.
In terms of identification there isn't a whole lot of insects with which you can confuse these wasps. The females are two inches or so long, their burrowing and swarming behavior in areas where you have loose soil is pretty distinctive. Again they are not likely to sting you; in fact I was standing in the middle of a cluster of wasp burrows on the JCCC campus when I took this particular shot. So use some common sense (not like me) and enjoy!