The velvet ant has a tough exoskeleton which protects her from stings by the host wasps in the nests that they invade and it similarly provides some protection from light-hearted (or light footed) attempts to crush her. Never employ this control method while barefoot. This technique is best applied while wearing work boots or shoes.
They do not live in a colony. So, even if you see several velvet ants (which is quite likely the case), they are all individual females doing their own thing and roaming about in search of prey.
Velvet ants are solitary wasps that mostly parasitize the larvae or pupae of other wasps and bees. As such, velvet ants can play a major role in the overall health of an ecosystem. Study of a nesting aggregation of the solitary ground nesting bee Diadasia rinconis Cockerell revealed that over 40% of the bee’s nest cells had been parasitized by 2 species of velvet ants, Dasymutilla foxi Cockerell and Dasymutilla vestita.
The deserts of southern California house a diverse and unique insect fauna. Velvet ants (Hymenoptera: Mutillidae) are common in these deserts. Velvet ants are important to ecosystem health, particularly in desert environments,
because they are parasitic on the bees and wasps that help maintain overall ecosystem function.
Females parasitize larvae and pupae of ground-nesting wasps and bees primarily, but a few species will attack beetles and flies. Velvet ants are actually related to paper wasps, so the females have a stinger with which they can inflict a very painful sting if mishandled. They were given their second common name, cow killer, because of folklore stating the sting was so powerful it could kill a cow.
Both females and males have a dense fur-like covering of hairs on their bodies. They are usually brightly colored with black and either red, orange or gold stripes. They both have long, gangly legs resembling those of paper wasps.
[Eastern] species of Velvet Ant is diurnal. Both genders can “squeak” by rubbing their abdominal segments together. Other insects such as some ground beetles and checkered beetles appear to mimic velvet ants.
These are solitary wasps. Another common name is Cow Killer. The wingless females have a long stinger and are reputed to have a very painful sting. They are parasites of insects, usually other wasps or solitary bees.
Knowledge about the biology of velvet ants is scanty, but those that have been studied are mostly parasites on ground-nesting bees and wasps. A few species are known to attack beetles and flies. Females spend much time in sandy areas searching for nests or aggregations of hosts.
Velvet ants are not ants at all, but a specialized group of insects belonging to the wasp family Mutillidae. Mutillid wasps can be found in Texas during the summertime in both urban and rural habitats. They are often referred to as velvet ants because the females are wingless, ant-like and often covered with a velvety “fur”.