Insect Identification
Insect Identification

Cow Killer - (Dasymutilla occidentalis)

Authored By Staff Writer | Last Updated: 1/5/2016

Do not touch! The visual warnings abound on the Eastern Velvet Ant, which is actually a solitary wasp.

The Eastern Velvet Ant (aka: "Cow Killer") is not an ant at all, though it looks like a hairy one. It is actually a wasp and the female has a severely ferocious sting that is rumored to be strong enough to kill cattle. It is extremely painful and this insect should not be handled.

Males have wings and look more like a typical wasp though they still retain some hairs on their body. Females do not have wings, but they can and do sting. The Eastern Velvet Ant is a solitary wasp meaning they do not congregate in nests with hundreds of others of their kind. They are also parasitic to bumble bees.

Females lay eggs in a bumble bee's hive. Once the wasp's eggs hatch, theses larvae eat the larvae of the bumble bee. Adults drink nectar.

Cow Killers can be found in fields, meadows, sandy areas and the edges of forests. They are typically most active at dusk or during the night. Though the female looks like an ant, her warning coloration and ferocious sting are enough defensive adaptations to keep most predators (and curious animals) at bay.

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Category: Bee, Ant, Wasp and Similar
Common name: Cow Killer
Scientific Name: Dasymutilla occidentalis
Other Names: Eastern Velvet Ant

  Kingdom: Animalia
   Phylum: Arthropoda
    Class: Insecta
     Order: Hymenoptera
      Family: Mutillidae
       Genus: Dasymutilla
        Species: occidentalis

Adult Size (Length): 15mm to 25mm (0.59in to 0.98in)

Identifying Colors: red; black

Additional Descriptors: hairy, ant, stinging, wasp, harmful

North American Reach (Though Not Limited To*): Alabama; Alaska; Arizona; Arkansas; California; Colorado; Connecticut; Delaware; Florida; Georgia; Hawaii; Idaho; Illinois; Indiana; Iowa; Kansas; Kentucky; Louisiana; Maine; Maryland; Massachusetts; Michigan; Minnesota; Mississippi; Missouri; Montana; Nebraska; Nevada; New Hampshire; New Jersey; New Mexico; New York; North Carolina; North Dakota; Ohio; Oklahoma; Oregon; Pennsylvania; Rhode Island; South Carolina; South Dakota; Tennessee; Texas; Utah; Vermont; Virginia; Washington; West Virginia; Wisconsin; Wyoming

* Keep in mind that insect reach is not governed by lines on a map and therefore may appear in areas/regions/states beyond those listed above.