What are Red Velvet Ants?

Red velvet ants are a variety of ant species that are often called cow killer ants.

This ant species are often solitary and do not act like the conventional ants who visit your home regularly. In fact, they are not true ants.

They are naturally wasps but are considered ants for certain reasons. One of which is the heavily covered hair they possess that makes them look like ants. The color could be red, yellow, white, or orange. 

Red velvet ants may not always visit your home but they can be seen in your gardens. One distinct thing about these ants is that you would not find them together as colonies. Unlike regular ants, these types move individually on sandy areas. 

What do red velvet ants look like? 

what do red velvet ants look like

As earlier stated, red velvet ants are wasps.

They are the largest velvet ant species ranging two to four inches in length.

The red velvet ant is typically brightly colored and looks like a large furry ant. Their legs are black with patches of red, yellow, white, or orange hair on other parts of their body, particularly on the thorax and abdomen.

They possess six legs and an antenna. The female red velvet ant is wingless and looks like an ant while the male ant is winged and looks like wasps.

The lifecycle of Red velvet ant 

Unlike other ant species who are social, live in colonies, and have a queen ant who reproduces, worker ants, and male ants who mate with the queen, the red velvet ant comprises the female velvet ant and the male velvet ant. And they do not live in colonies.

To reproduce and continue their life cycle, the male velvet ant mates with the female velvet ant.

Most male velvet ants are rare. So if you were to encounter any red velvet ant bustling through your lawn, it would be most likely the female velvet ant. Male red velvet ants are often found on flowers.

The female red velvet or cow killer ant has pheromones all over her that make it easy for the male velvet ant to locate her.

After mating occurs, the female finds the nearest wasp nest or bee nest to lay eggs. The eggs are laid inside the already developed larvae of the host and hatch somewhat quickly.

When the eggs hatch, the velvet ants eat up the host larvae in about one to two weeks but remain in their host cocoon for a while during which it develops through several larval stages; say until late spring.

When these eggs are hatched, the newborn ants are left to be on their own.

One unique fact about these red velvet ants is their ability to produce a chemical that hides their true identity.

So if they are in a wasp’s nest, the wasp will not be able to identify the red velvet ant rather, it would see it as one of them. This enables the red velvet ant to reduce the population of the wasps or bees by feeding on their larvae. 

Red velvet ant habitat

These groups of ants are seen all over the world but mostly in eastern and southern areas of the United States of America. The red velvet ants are often found in dry regions so they are more likely to be seen in your farmlands and gardens.

They naturally inhabit open, sandy, dry, or sunny areas like lawns, grasslands, or pastures and would hardly ever be found in your house except on occasions where they are seeking shelter during the rainy season.

Red velvet ants do not make anthills or nests like other ant species, so you would see them crawling outside in your gardens or farms.

On some occasions, the red velvet ant may infest your house for insect prey. The male red velvet ants are most often found on flowers. Also, you are likely to see them where their prey digs nests. 

Red velvet ant foraging habit and diet

Red velvet ants have a different foraging habit from other ants.

Because they are not actually ants, they do not live in colonies and do not work together.

A red velvet ant is likely to be seen alone scurrying or crawling rapidly through sand or grasslands.

A lone adult red velvet ant feeds on water from flowers like milkweed and nectar-like wasps and bees while the immature or newly hatched red velvet ants feed on the larvae or pupae of their host after they hatch.

They also feed on insects like flies and beetles. 

Do red velvet ants sting?

The name “cow killer” was given to this species of ant because of their sting.

You may be wondering if they are capable of killing cows. Well, the answer is no. Red velvet ants do not kill cows, they hardly ever sting them. When they do, their sting does not kill them. 

They are however called cow killer ants for their ability to sting humans and animals.

There is no denying that the sting of the red velvet ant can be extremely painful, though it is less harmful and less toxic than that of bees, harvester ants, or wasps.

Naturally, these species are not aggressive but can sting if held or stepped on with bare feet. They possess an unusually long stinger which they use to sting. If the red velvet ant stings you, the pain can be quite excruciating.

Are red velvet ants dangerous?

Red Velvet Ants

To say red velvet ants are not at all dangerous is to say they do not have stingers.

Nevertheless, red velvet ants are not dangerous for your home or environment.

They are not likely to infest your home in their numbers like other ants because they are solitary insects. They can, however, cause excruciating pain with their sting.

It is said that the red velvet ant sting is one of the most painful insect stings in the world.

The sting of the male velvet ant is not as painful as that of the female. Female red velvet ants have very painful stings that can produce some toxic effects on humans.

This sting is often compared to an electric shock and can last for about 30 minutes. It can also cause allergic reactions that may lead to anaphylactic shock. In this case, their stings are dangerous. 

Red velvet ants are naturally not aggressive and may hardly ever attack you because they are solitary insects and do not live indoors. They also would hardly ever sting except they feel attacked or threatened. 

If you have been beaten by a red velvet ant, and you notice any kind of allergic reaction, seek medical help as soon as possible if not immediately. 

Do red velvet ants bite dogs?

Red velvet ant is likely to sting your dog as much as it’s likely to sting you.

But it is not capable of killing your dog. The sting is practically harmless and does not affect your pet negatively. Except the dog is allergic to it.

The sting is however painful and most dogs cannot withstand pain. You will need to show your dog extra care if it experiences the red velvet ant sting. 

The venom from the sting is most often harmless and most dogs hardly react to the venom from the sting. Some dogs, in rare cases, may have allergic reactions to this sting like humans.

If your dog is one of such dogs, you should visit a veterinary doctor for treatment. Red velvet ants bite dogs but their sting isn’t at all harmful to them. 

“Cow killer ants” sting symptoms

In order to ascertain the sting of a red velvet ant, study the following symptoms. 

If you have been stung by a red velvet ant, you would experience pain as you would with any other insect bite. In some cases, you may experience some allergic reactions. 

The symptoms are usually in form of redness, change in pulse, swelling of the infected area, low blood pressure and anxiety, breathing problem. If you notice these symptoms, kindly seek help immediately. You can also self-treat using the following DIY solutions; table salt and ice cube.

Table salt – mix a considerable amount into a paste with water and apply on the swollen part.

Ice cubes – you can use ice cubes to reduce pain and swelling. 

How to prevent “cow killer ants” from entering your home 

As has been often reiterated, red velvet ants may rarely infest your home as they do not move in colonies and are hardly ever attracted to your house. So you have nothing to worry about. Notwithstanding, it is important to know how to prevent these insects from invading or infesting your home in case of a possible invasion.

Remember to keep your environment clean and empty your bin regularly. If you have trees around your house, make sure to cut down overlapping branches close to your roof or windows. Seal off patches and cracks on your walls. These will stop any possible invasion.

How to get rid of red velvet ants.

Getting rid of red velvet ants is a tad different from getting rid of other ant pests in your home. Mostly because this species is hardly seen together in colonies and may not have infested your home in large numbers. 

The methods employed in getting rid of regular ant pests cannot be employed when getting rid of the red velvet ant. These insects do not live in homes, they are solitary and some are nocturnal. 

When you notice an invasion, there are ways with which you can get rid of them. They are as follows;

  • Since they are not like other ants who build nests, you may find it hard to kill them all at once. But you can kill them individually using insecticides. You can use insecticides used for killing wasps like Ortho Home Defense Hornet and Wasp Killer or other wasp killer insecticides, to kill them. Just spray the insecticide on an individual red velvet ant.
  • You can crush these insects with your feet but you must be putting on a thick-soled shoe. If not, avoid them because these insects can sting you and their sting is very painful. 
  • If you are able to detect a group of red velvet ants, trace their entry source to see if there is any nest where the female might be laying eggs and use any pesticide or wasp killer to get rid of them.
  • clean the holes or nests where the female is laying eggs with insecticide dust. 
  • You can also contact garden professionals for help on how to handle these insects. 


Red velvet ants are not true ants, they do not live in colonies, and neither do they move around together. They look like long hairy ants but they are actually wasps. Most red velvet ants hunt for food alone and usually will not attack you. Funny enough, these ants will run away when they see you. They are often not aggressive and will almost never invade your home. They only attack when there is a supposed threat. You are more likely to see them in your gardens and lawns and less in your home.



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