Getting Rid of Velvet Cow Killer Ants | Natural and Humane Solutions

Written by Thomas Matthews

Red velvet ants or cow killer ants are solitary types 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.

So, how to get rid of red velvet ants? If you are not in a hurry, you can use a broom or a shovel to remove them from your property due to their small numbers. This way, you will not kill them. If you want to remove them promptly, just stomp on them, but only if you wear shoes.

Red velvet ants can be a nuisance, especially if you have pets in your garden. 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 you or your property. Let’s begin!

What Is A Red Velvet Ant?

Velvet ants are 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 for a potential mate (female ants are wingless).

Female Red Velvet Ants 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 the larvae of their hosts for a 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.

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 cannot fly a few meters in the air. Their flying abilities are pretty limited.

Cow Killer Red Velvet Ant: Why This Name?

velvet cow killer ant

Red velvet ants are also called cow killer ants. They were given these names because of the painful sting. It is important to note that only females have this painful sting.

However, red velvet ants can’t kill cows. It is impossible because the sting is only mildly toxic and will only be painful to the cow. It is important to note that their sting is probably more painful to us than 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 infest our homes that often. The problem is that you can find them in your garden, but it is 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 will usually 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; they do not form colonies and never come in large numbers.

Are Red Velvet Ants Dangerous?

Velvet ants are not dangerous for your house or environment but have an excruciating sting. Their venom is not toxic (only mildly), but its pain 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 to an electric shock.

Velvet ant sting causes, in most cases, intense pain for around 30 minutes. Also, be aware that 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 are 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 will be different reactions to it. As for the symptoms, some people experience only pain, while others have mild to medium allergic reactions.

The symptoms can be swelling, redness, problems with breathing, change in pulse, low blood pressure, and anxiety (primarily due to 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 don’t attack unless 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 will see a more significant reaction if a bee or a wasp attacks you. Still, it probably hurts 10 times more than a bee or wasp sting.

How Painful Is a Red Velvet Ant Sting?

Red velvet ant sting is excruciating. 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 pain level 4, with the red velvet ant sting rating around level 3, while bees are at 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 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, which will cause stress and anxiety.

Are Red Velvet Ants Harmful to Dogs?

Red velvet ants are not harmful to dogs but can cause them great pain. Our dogs are very curious when they wander the garden; if they step on the velvet ant, it will attack them.

Can a red velvet ant kill a 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 us humans, certain dogs can have some of the allergic symptoms (rare cases).

How To Get Rid Of Red Velvet Ants?

Velvet ants are not like regular ants. They are more like wasps, which affects how you can fight them. When you have an invasion of regular ants, they come in large numbers, and we usually look for a nest 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 that 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 a nest is 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 your local garden center what should be the best option.

How to Prevent Red Velvet Ants From Invading Your House?

Red velvet ants will rarely come in more significant numbers as they are not 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 cases, 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 the foundation of the house. You can try and fix those cracks by yourself or 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 is 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.

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

Thomas Matthews
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