Look but don’t touch: Velvet Ants
Imagine this scene: You’re walking along downtown and you see something red moving along very quickly on the ground. You stop to look and your eyes light upon the biggest, fuzziest ant you’ve ever seen! The colors are bright red and black, an obvious warning, but it’s furry cuteness urges you to just reach out and touch it, maybe even let it crawl on your hand! Suddenly, BAM! The most intense burning you’ve experienced starts in your hand and lasts HOURS! You have just met the Eastern Velvet Ant.
‘Common in this area during the late summer, you may have already seen these deceptively cute little critters in your yard or garden lately. They are also known as Cow Killers. Though they look like large hairy ants, ‘Dasymutilla occidentalis’ are actually a wasp. The females are flightless and condemned to a life on the ground. The males look like smaller versions of the females except they have the advantage of transparent black wings.
While the male is harmless, these fuzzy ladies have a long stinger that is also their ovipositor (used to lay eggs) and can deliver one of the top most painful stings in the world with pain lasting for days in humans. The nickname “Cow Killer” derives from the tale that cows, when stung, will die from the pain. These wasps are solitary and parasitic to bumblebees. Females seek out bumblebee nests and lay their eggs inside the wax cups. After bees, adult female velvet ants enter the host nest by digging through the soil or breaking through nest walls. The cow killer larvae feed on the bumblebee larvae and pupae and will pupate inside the bumble bee nest. This bumblebee is ultimately killed.
Despite the damage they can do to bumblebees and the pain they can cause humans and animals, they aren’t all bad news. The adults live on a diet of water and nectar meaning that they can play a hand in pollention. Velvet ants prefer pastures and fields with sandy soil where their prey are most likely to be found. There is no effective control measure for them. If they are particularly abundant in an area often populated by humans, it may be helpful to heavily seed the area to promote thicker grass coverage. This would discourage the ground nesting bees, like our friend the bumblebee, on which velvet ants feed. No chemical control is recommended. If you spot one, have no fear, just caution. They are not aggressive and will try to escape when encountered. They’ve also been heard to give a little squeak when disturbed, which honestly makes them sound even more charming. But despite their seeming cuteness, these insects SHOULD NOT be handled! They are usually more active at dusk! So, keep your eyes peeled and pointed down to get a glimpse of these adorable pain providers.
If you have any questions about velvet ants or anything plant or insect related, don’t hesitate to come by Downtown Greens! Our knowledgeable staff love nothing more than to educate and discuss all things plant related!
Starting next month, Janet will be writing a monthly column in the Front Porch! It'll be filled with stories like this, where she will be expanding on her weekly garden factoids. You can check out the current full Front Porch issue here!
A couple photos from the recent Space Jam movie night in Fredericksburg, Va. We filled out our census and feasted on some goodies courtesy of Beach Fries, Italian Station, and Poppin' Jons, all of which are from the community!
Filling out the census is important! Feel free do so here if you haven't already.
Here are a couple photos from one of our recent Free Farm Stand events here in Fredericksburg, VA. With the help of wonderful volunteers and donors we provide a great haul of fresh produce to give straight back to our surrounding community in need! Squash, Potatoes, Beans, peppers, eggs, and more were handed out to smiling faces! Every Thursday 5:30-6:30pm, we meet in the Upper Gardens on the corner of Dixon and Princess Anne Streets, so feel free to stop by!
Tell us a little bit about yourself
I am a new Fredericksburg resident. My family and I moved here from Syracuse, New York in January of this crazy year. I own my own public relations and inspiration company called Blooms PR and Inspiration Company. I am also a freelance blogger, quasi writer and the social media manager for Fredericksburg Parent Magazine. I have been married to my husband for almost a decade and we have two wonderful daughters who are sweet and spicy.
How did you first come across Downtown Greens?
The Sip & See was my first interaction earlier in spring. It was such an amazing experience to come and see the beautiful urban garden in downtown Fredericksburg. I was here for all of nine weeks and I really wanted to get involved in something outdoors. Coming here there was already a sense of community.
What’s your favorite thing about Downtown Greens?
I really like the fact that it is a community garden. Also because of the involvement with the youth. Not only because I have my own children, but also because that was my world back in New York.
What is one unique thing about you that people might not know?
I think something that is unique about me is that I cannot plant. I have no green thumb at all. Everything I do is flowers, all my branding is blooming. I love flowers. I even told my husband I wanted chickens when we moved here. I am not a country girl so even my friends were shocked like “you really want chickens?” even though I barely want to take our dog for a walk.
Why did you become a board member?
I had an amazing board experience back home. Three of us amazing dynamic women in my community in Syracuse decided we were not going to let an old grocery store be turned into a McDonalds. So I said yes to that board, working social media, vice president, and event planning. That co-op is now a cultural epicenter in Syracuse and it is a place to host events and learn. So when I was asked to be a board member at Downtown Greens, I thought it was the perfect opportunity to meet people and share any expertise that I have in this beautiful space.
Click here to watch the entire interview with Lauren