Red Velvet Ant

The red velvet ant, actually a wasp, is an external parasite of ground-nesting bees.

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This insect was named for its looks, not for its place in the biological order of critters. The red velvet ant is a striking insect that's a misnomer: It's actually a wasp, not an ant. Dense orange-red hair covers the abdomen and thorax, and the females don't have wings.

Red velvet ants are a good thing to spot in the landscape if you're worried about yellow jackets. Red velvet ants prey on yellow jackets and other ground-nesting bees and wasps by burrowing into their nest, laying an egg in the bee cocoon. The egg hatches into a grub that feeds on the surrounding bee larvae. Red velvet ants also prey on bumblebees. Adult red velvet ants feed on nectar.

These critters aren't aggressive, but the female can deliver a painful sting when disturbed. Males don't sting. The females are occasionally seen in the summer months and are solitary and fairly reclusive. They'll usually quickly run away if they feel threatened.

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