How to Get Rid of Red Velvet Ants | Cow Killer Ant Facts

Red velvet ants or cow killer ants are a solitary type of ants that don’t create nests and conventional ways of fighting other types of ants just won’t be effective in this particular case. Velvet ants are also well known for their very painful sting, so it is better not to provoke them. These ants don’t swarm areas with their enormous numbers like other ants because they are actually not ants, in fact, they are wasps.

Velvet ants come in small numbers and they are predators to all kinds of bees and wasps. They can be a potential danger to humans and livestock, so you should deal with them as soon as possible. Because they don’t usually invade in large groups, the method of their removal is quite different then with other ants.

So, how to get rid of red velvet ants? Getting rid of the red velvet ants (cow killer ants) requires unconventional ways of fighting insects as they don’t create colonies and don’t come in large numbers. Velvet ants are practically harmless for humans except for their extremely painful stings (some can have allergic reactions). If you are not in a hurry, due to their small numbers you can use a broom or a shovel to remove them from your property, this way you will not kill them. If you want to remove them in a timely manner just stomp on them but only if you wear shoes. Do not try stomping them with bare feet, because if they sting you, you will feel one of the most painful stings in your life. Also, there are some wasp insecticides that can be used against them but we will talk about that later.

Red velvet ants can be a real nuisance, especially if you have pets in your garden, so reading this article will be of great help to you. We covered everything, from defining a velvet ant, to all possible ways of fighting and protecting yourself from them. You will also learn how to identify them and see if they can do any harm to your or your property. Let’s begin!

What Is A Red Velvet Ant?

Velvet ants are in fact a parasitic type of wasp, but they are called ants because of the hair on their back, which is always in some vivid color, like red, yellow, orange or white. That way they can show that they are dangerous.


Male Red Velvet Ant

Males look more like a wasp, they have wings and are darker in color, and you will rarely see them. Like other wasps and ants, only females have stingers.

Velvet ants are known for their almost unique way of reproduction. Male ants fly close to the ground in search of a potential mate (female ants are wingless).


Female Red Velvet Ant and Their Reproduction

Usually when you see a big red velvet ant scurrying around you are actually seeing a female red velvet ant. Female red velvet ants are covered in pheromones which helps males to detect them. After mating, female red velvet ants occupy a nest of wasps or bees and lay eggs there. They choose to lay their eggs inside the host larvae that are already developed. Their eggs hatch relatively quickly, and newly hatched ants eat larvae of their hosts during the period of one to two weeks.

They remain in the host’s cocoon until late spring. From the moment of the hatching, ants are left on their own. Other hosts are not aware of the intruder because these ants can release chemical markers that hide their true identity and local wasps think that the red velvet ant is one of them. This way velvet ants are keeping the population of the wasps and bees under control.


Cow Killer Red Velvet Ant: Why This Name?

velvet cow killer ant

Red velvet ants are also called cow killer ants. They were given this names because of the painful sting. It is important to note that only females have this painful sting. Red velvet ant killing a cow, is that even possible? No, red velvet ants can’t kill cows. It is impossible because the sting is only mildly toxic and it will only be painful to the cow. It is important to note that their sting is probably more painful to us then to the cows.


Where Do Red Velvet Ants Come From?

Red velvet ants are native to the eastern and southern parts of the United States. They are constantly on the move, so they don’t build nests, and they interact with others of their kind only when mating, or by some other rare chance.


Where Does the Red Velvet Ant Live?

Red velvet ants love to live in grasslands (meadow and pasture) and they don’t really infest our homes that often. The problem is that you can find them in your garden, it is really rare to see them in houses or garages. That only happens when the weather outside is changing or if there is a lot of rain so they seek shelter.

Because they are not ants at all (they are wasps) they do not build ant hills or have huge colonies. You are usually going to see them crawling outside through your grass or plants.


Are Red Velvet Ants Rare?

Red velvet ants are not really rare or close to extinction but they are uncommon to see in gardens. Most of the time there is no need for insecticides to get rid of them because their number is really low and you can simply remove them with something else. This is because they are not ants but wasps and they do not form colonies and never come in large numbers.


How To Get Rid Of Red Velvet Ants

How to kill red velvet ants? Like we said earlier, velvet ants are not like regular ants, they are more like wasps, and that changes a lot of things, including the way you can fight them. When you have an invasion of regular ants, they come in large numbers and we usually look for a nest in order to destroy it, but when it comes to velvet ants, it is quite different.

When fighting a regular ant invasion, we can use pesticides or traps, which ants carry to their colony, and that causes the whole colony to die. You can’t use those methods when it comes to velvet ants. Velvet ants are solitary insects, and they will not invade your home in large numbers. They in fact, rarely live in places densely populated by people. Fighting them can be done in a couple of ways:


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  • If you are wearing thick-soled shoes, you can step on them but if you are barefoot, avoid any contact with them, their sting is extremely painful!

  • In some rare cases, if you detect a larger group of velvet ants, try to track them. If there is a nest nearby, find it, because a larger group of velvet ants can be a real nuisance. They usually live in holes, so spray them with wasp spray or other pesticides. Ask in your local garden center what should be the best option in these cases.

How To Prevent Red Velvet Ants From Invading Your House

Red velvet ants will rarely come in larger numbers as they are not that attracted to our houses and homes. That being said, you don’t have a reason to be afraid that your home is going to be invaded by red velvet ants.

If in some rare case, these ants find a way into your home, check for their entry spots. In most cases, this can be some crack in the wall or in the foundation of the house. You can try and fix those cracks by yourself, or you can call an expert.

Also, like with other ants, you should throw all the garbage regularly and try to keep a neat and clean home. Another thing that you could check for if they are any overlapping branches that are near your windows or roof. Trimming those branches will cut a possible route that red velvet ants could use to get into your home.


Cow Killer Red Velvet Ant: Everything You Need to Know


Are Red Velvet Ants Dangerous?

Velvet ants are not really dangerous for your house or environment but they do have an extremely painful sting. Their venom is not toxic (only mildly) but the pain from it is really something.

Only female red velvet ants have this very painful stinger with some toxic effects, while male velvet ants don’t have this painful sting. It is rated as number 3 on the sting index pain, and some compared the pain with an electric shock. Velvet ant sting causes in most cases intense pain for around 30 minutes. Also, be aware, because there are cases of allergic reactions that can cause anaphylactic shock. If you see any allergic reactions, please seek immediate medical treatment.

Allergy shots are the treatment for the allergic reaction from the velvet ant sting and it is highly effective. If the allergic reaction is not treated, it can cause severe consequences, and in some cases, death.


• Red Velvet Ant Sting Symptoms | Red Velvet Ant Bite

Like with any insect sting there are going to be different reactions to it. As for the symptoms, some people are going to experience only pain, while others are going to have mild to medium allergic reactions.

The symptoms can be in the form of swelling, redness, problems with breathing, change in pulse, low blood pressure and anxiety (mostly due to the extreme pain).


• Red Velvet Ant Bite Treatment

If you don’t have allergic reactions, and you just want to treat the affected spot, you can use these two DIY solutions:

  • Table salt – place it on your palm, and mix it with water. Make a paste out of it, and place it on the sting. It will take around 5 minutes to numb the pain.
  • Ice cube – use an ice cube to slow the blood flow. That will reduce pain and swelling.

But in most cases, you won’t have problems with red velvet ants, because they are solitary insects, and they don’t attack unless they are provoked or threatened.

Conclusion: It is best if you could avoid red velvet ants, that way they will be of no harm to you.


• Are Red Velvet Ants Poisonous?

The venom of the red velvet ants is not really that toxic but it is extremely painful. In reality, it is only mildly toxic and you are going to see a bigger reaction if a bee or a wasp attacks you. Still, it probably hurts 10 times more than a sting from a bee or a wasp.


How Painful Is a Red Velvet Ant Sting?

Red velvet ant sting is extremely painful. It is one of the most painful insect stings in the world. If you want to know more about insect pain comparison, there is a scale called “Schmidt sting pain index”. On that scale, you can see various pain levels for different insects. It goes up to the pain level 4 and red velvet ant sting rating in around level 3, while bees are level 1.


Are Red Velvet Ants Harmful to Humans?

Are Red Velvet Ants Harmful to Humans

Venom from red velvet ants is only mildly toxic but it is very painful and also some people can get allergic reactions from their stings. Overall, red velvet ants are not very harmful to humans and are usually not a threat.

Sometimes we get asked “Can a Red Velvet Ant Kill a Human?”, the answer is negative and they are almost harmless to humans and most pets. The only thing that can present a problem is pain from their sting as it will cause stress and anxiety.


Are Red Velvet Ants Harmful to Dogs?

Red velvet ants are not harmful to dogs but they can cause them great pain. Our dogs are very curious when they wander the garden and if they step on the velvet ant it will attack them. This will cause problems are dogs don’t really know how to deal with the pain as us humans. You will need to alleviate this problem somehow and give them support.

Can a red velvet ant kill my dog? No, just like with humans, red velvet ants can only cause pain but they are practically harmless to dogs. In most cases, dogs are not allergic to velvet ant’s venom but just like with us humans certain dogs can have some of the allergic symptoms (rare cases).


Do Red Velvet Ants Fly?

Only male red velvet ants can fly and have developed winds, while the females are wingless and can’t fly. Male red velvet ants can fly only very close to the ground and are unable to fly a few meters in the air. Their flying abilities are pretty limited.


Summary

Red velvet ants are species of wasps and they are called ants because of their hair on their back which can be colored in red, yellow, orange or white. They just look similar to ants but they don’t create colonies or nests, because they are always on the move.

What is peculiar about them is their sting. If they sting you it will be one of the most painful experiences you will ever get in your life. Some compare red velvet ant sting with an electric shock. Still, in most cases, they don’t pose a threat and they will avoid any human contact if not provoked.

When it comes to fighting them, you can’t use conventional ways of fighting ants. If you think that they will be a nuisance for you, you can use pesticides used against wasp and bees. Regularly you will see them alone, so you can combat every individual velvet ant. If you don’t have anything you can use at hand, you can stomp them, but be sure that you have thick-soled footwear.

Also, it is better to call professionals if you are not sure that you can handle these situations by yourself. If you have an allergic reaction to their sting, be sure to seek medical care as soon as you can, because an allergic reaction can develop into something much more serious.

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List of Sources

Red Velvet Ant or “Cow Killer”, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service

Bessin R., Velvet Ants, University of Kentucky College of Agriculture

Orr D., Velvet Ant, NC State University Entomology

Manley D., Velvet Ants, Clemson University

Red Velvet Ants, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences

Young L., Ranking the Pain of Stinging Insects, From ‘Caustic’ to ‘Blinding’, Atlas Obscura

Gall, B. G., Spivey, K. L., Chapman, T. L., Delph, R. J., Brodie, E. D., Jr, & Wilson, J. S. (2018). The indestructible insect: Velvet ants from across the United States avoid predation by representatives from all major tetrapod clades, Ecology and evolution