When An Ant Is Not An Ant?

However silly this question may be, if you live in warm, sandy areas, such as California, Arizona, Nevada, Texas, New Mexico or Colorado and you have the privilege to be a house and garden owner, surely you saw at least once some red ants flying or crawling around the premises. But before making a phone call to your regular pest control company to send you the big guns, you should know that what you’re dealing with are not ants, but wasps.

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The Red Velvet Ant

This insect draws its name from its color, usually because their bodies are covered with colored hairs in dark red, black or brown. You can spot these killers (as they are dangerous just like any other wasp) as the males have wings and the females don’t.

Females are the most dangerous ones, as they sting hard and painful. The reputation of these insects is not a good one, either: also called cow killers or mule killers, they have a terrible impact on animals, as the sting is very painful and they can do it several times in a row.

What to do if you encounter Red Velvet Ants?

If you have a house, a garden and a lawn, look for them carefully. They are not the regular pests that feed on wood like termites and they don’t contribute to house and property damage, as they have a soft spot on nectar. However, if you have children or pets, these wasps can do a lot of harm to them.

Michael Merchant, an Urban Entomologist with Texas AgriLife Extension Service says that the proper medical care for Red Velvet Ants should consist in the basic rules of bee sting care, as they are different just regarding the pain level, significantly higher in the case of the Velvet Ant.

Where and how can they be found?

You can spot Red Velvet Ants early in the morning or late in the evening, as they are busy insects during the day, but they will hide in plants and under debris when temperatures get high at noon. So if you know you have some bushes and some flowers that both produce nectar and are dense enough to keep the ants their much needed shadow, this is a good place to start looking.

However, precaution methods are in order: don’t work your garden or investigate for pests (any kind of pests for that matter) with open-toe shoes or flip-flops, short trousers or without rubber gloves. You don’t want to be stung by them, although the sting is not poisonous for humans. They are not predators which attack, but they do sting when bothered, stepped on or touched.

Another good place to find them are lawns, flower beds and orchards. They don’t live in colonies, so coming up with an insecticide treatment plan in order to eliminate the nest of origin is not an efficient solution, as there are no nests to treat and exterminate.

How to exterminate them?

Extension Entomologists Michael G. Waldvogel and Stephen B. Bambara wrote some time ago in the North Carolina Pest News – Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology that these ants are not just the Arnold Schwarzenegger of the ant world (and wasps and bees), but they will be back every year, as getting rid of them is a hard process if not impossible. Therefore, instead of a combat plan, an educational one is more likely to work in this case.

Michael Merchant suggests people encountering the problem to educate themselves and their children to recognize, stay away and not handle these insects, as while for adults, proper gardening equipment and precaution are mandatory.