One of the insects with the most painful stings in the world, the so called ‘velvet ant’ or ‘cow killer wasp’, has been reported for the first time in Liverpool, UK. The sighting is actually really unusual as the insect is native to the United States. While toxicity of the venom has no properties to harm us and the definition ‘cow killer’ is quite overstated, we still believe that nobody would like to volunteer to get stung as Mr Peterson did, bless his heart!
The ‘cow killer’ is a solitary wasp that belongs to the Mutillidae family of wasps and has a dense pile of hair in variety of striking colours, to warn off any potential predators. In the UK the ‘velvet ant’ is very rare and has only been seen three times since 2013 in the Aberdeenshire area, after more than 27 years of absence.
A rare sighting of the ‘cow killer’ wasp in the UK
We are very excited as the most recent sighting of the wasp has been reported by one of our website users! Being unable to identify the female wasp, which was crawling undisturbed in the garden of her residential property in Waterloo, Liverpool. Unfortunately, she could not take an image of the wasp, but the sighting was very real, judging by the detailed description provided. She thought it is the most unusual ant she had ever seen and we cannot blame her. For everyone’s relief, this amazing creature was not aggressive and nobody got hurt as we had to cover our eyes when watching the agonising video of Coyote Peterson, a brave lad who didn’t mind getting stung by the ‘cute’ wasp in the name of science.
The female ‘velvet ant’ is wingless, unlike the male, and only the female is armed with an inch-long stinger, which serves as egg-laying organ, called the ovipositor. They are also parasitoids, as the mated female usually digs into a bee or wasp nest on the ground level to lay the eggs on or near the larva of the insect host. The newly hatched ‘velvet ant’ larvae will feed on the bee or wasp larvae, eventually killing them. The adult ‘cow killer wasp’ feeds on nectar and is attracted by flowers and plants.
An interesting fact is that when being threatened, ‘velvet ants’ produce a squeaking noise with different sections of their abdomen, by moving them in and out. As well, they release smelly chemicals to discourage any potential predators by manipulating their behaviour. These sophisticated predatory wasps are very powerful and agile, armoured by an exoskeleton so tough, that it is almost impossible to crush them. Very often they escape from the jaws of much bigger predators and survive.
Bed Bug Hunters & Prime Pest Control
Richa Malhotra, BBC Earth (2015). ‘Superpowers of the near invincible velvet ant’.
Jody Green, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, US. ‘Velvet ant (cow killer ant)’.
Mark Macaskill, The Sunday Times, UK (2017). ‘Cow killer wasp causing a buzz’.