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Cow Killer (Dasymutilla occidentalis)


Detailing the physical features, habits, territorial reach and other identifying qualities of the Cow Killer



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Velvety hairs in bright red and black are clear visual warnings on the Cow Killer that should give one pause before touching.



Updated: 09/17/2021; Authored By Staff Writer; Content ©www.InsectIdentification.org
The Eastern Velvet Ant - also known as the Cow Killer - is not an ant at all, though the female looks and walks like one. The Cow Killer is actually a type of wasp and the wingless female has a ferocious sting that is rumored to be strong enough to kill cattle. For humans, the sting is extremely painful and this insect should not be handled. Males do have wings and look more like a typical wasp despite some hairs on their body. The Cow Killer is a solitary wasp, more likely to be seen alone than in nests with hundreds of others.

This wasp species is parasitic to Bumble bees. Females lay eggs in a bumble bee hive. Once the wasp's eggs hatch, the wasp larvae eat the larvae of the bumble bee. Adults drink nectar. Cow Killers can be found in fields, meadows, sandy areas, lawns, and at the edges of forests. They are typically most active at dusk or during the night. Look for females on the ground, walking in grass, along walls, and across patios.




General Characteristics
Capability, Shape, Texture/Pattern, Benefits, Dangers
Hairy insect icon
Harmful insect icon
Insect stinger icon


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Taxonomic Hierarchy
Species Breakdown
Kingdom: Animalia
  Phylum: Arthropoda
    Class: Insecta
      Order: Hymenoptera
        Family: Mutillidae
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          Genus: Dasymutilla
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            Species: occidentalis
Identifying Information
Size, Colors, Features
Scientific Name: Dasymutilla occidentalis
Other Name(s): Eastern Velvet Ant
Category: Bee, Ant, Wasp and Similar
Size (Adult; Length): 15mm to 25mm (0.59" to 0.98")
Colorwheel Graphic Colors: red; black
Descriptors: hairy, ant, stinging, wasp, harmful

Cow-Killer Video(s)




Cowkillers milling around.
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Relative Size Comparison
Typical Size Between 15mm (0.6in) and 25mm (1.0in)
Lo: 15mm
Md: 20mm
Hi: 25mm
Territorial Map*
U.S., Canada, and Mexico
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State of Delware graphic
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State of South Carolina graphic
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State of Tennessee graphic
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State of Utah graphic
State of Virginia graphic
State of Washington graphic
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State of Wyoming graphic
Canadian territory of Alberta graphic
Canadian territory of British Columbia graphic
Canadian territory of Manitoba graphic
Canadian territory of New Brunswick graphic
Canadian territory of Newfoundland and Labrador graphic
Canadian territory of Ontario graphic
Canadian territory of Quebec graphic
Canadian territory of Saskatchewan graphic
Territory map graphic of the country of Mexico
Contiguous United States shape map layer graphic
Alaska  
Hawaii  
Prince Edward Is.  
* MAP NOTES: The territorial heat map above showcases (in red) the states and territories of North America where the Cow Killer may be found (but is not limited to). This sort of data is useful when attempting to see concentrations of particular species across the continent as well as revealing possible migratory patterns over a species' given lifespan. Some insects are naturally confined by environment, weather, mating habits, food resources and the like while others see widespread expansion across most, or all, of North America. States/Territories shown above are a general indicator of areas inhabited by the Cow Killer. Insects generally go where they please, typically driven by diet, environmental changes, and / or mating habits.

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