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University of Nebraska–Lincoln

UNL Extension in Lancaster County

Insects, Spiders, Mice and More

Helping Nebraskans enhance their lives through research-based education.

Cow Killer Ant or Velvet Ant

submitted by Soni Cochran, Extension Associate

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An unusual insect reported in Lancaster County yards during late summer and early fall is the velvet ant. The females are wingless and are sometimes mistaken for a large, hairy, orange and black ant. These "ants" are actually wasp! A solitary wasp, the velvet ant does not live in colonies or have a "nest". They are found crawling through lawns, digging around soil, or even in garages where they have wandered in by accident.

Velvet ants are not aggressive and will try to escape from you. The females have a very painful sting if handled. The name "Cow Killer Ant" was given to the velvet ant because of the reputation of the female's sting. It is said that the sting is so painful that it could kill a cow. This handsome insect does make a sound (especially when stepped on) but the squeaks of the cow killer ant would hardly be heard over the painful screams, if the person stepping on the wasp was barefoot.

The information on this Web site is valid for residents of southeastern Nebraska. It may or may not apply in your area. If you live outside southeastern Nebraska, visit your local Extension office


Contact Information

University of Nebraska-Lincoln
in Lancaster County
Web site: lancaster.unl.edu
444 Cherrycreek Road, Suite A,
Lincoln, NE 68528
| 402-441-7180

The adult velvet ants feed on nectar and water. The immature stages are external parasites of wasp that nest in the ground like cicada killer wasp. Cicada killer wasp dig burrows into the ground. The adult cicada killer wasp capture and paralyze cicadas and drag them into the underground burrow. The wasp lays an egg on the cicada and after it hatches, the cicada killer wasp larva uses the cicada as a food source.

Here is where the velvet ant comes into the picture. After the developing cicada killer wasp have formed cocoons, the adult female velvet ants slip into the hole in the ground where the nest is located and lays eggs on the cocoon. The velvet ant larvae hatch and feed on, eventually killing, the developing wasp larvae. When it ready to become an adult, the velvet ant pupates inside the nest of the wasp where it will emerge the next season.

Velvet ants do not cause damage and no chemical controls are need. Velvet ants should be left alone, but if control is desired, make sure you have on a heavy-soled shoe before stepping on the insect!