Growing up in rural Oklahoma I remember playing with large, fuzzy ants we called "Cow Catchers." We called them that because everyone said they were big enough to catch a cow. Fast forward to today and, because of some pictures a customer sent in, I've decided to cover the topic of "The Cow Killer Ant," "Red Velvet Ant" or as the entomologists say, "Dasymutilla Occidentalis."
This Red Velvet Ant is actually not an ant, but a solitary wasp, meaning it doesn't live in a colony. The female is wingless and hairy with red and black coloring. The males look like the females except they have two pairs of dark wings. The males also don't sting like the females do. Adult Red Velvet Ants feed on nectar. The larval stages are parasites, having been laid in their host by the female Velvet Ant.
These wasps are not aggressive and do not normally live in areas frequented by us. Because of this, control is not normally required. However, as you can see in the pictures below, it's important to check boots, gloves, and other clothing because the sting of the female can be nasty.
The preferred habitats of the Red Velvet Ant are pastures and areas along the forest edge. In urban areas, they can occasionally be seen crawling through lawns, digging in bare soil or hiding in garages or sheds where they have wandered in.
Although Velvet Ants may look cute and cuddly, don't play with them or you might end up like the customer pictured below.