Q: I have discovered a new insect around my yard and it doesn’t look nice. It looks like a big, red ant with a black stripe around the middle. My neighbor said they are “cow ants”.
A: The insect you have seen is not an ant but a female wingless wasp, called a velvet ant. In rural areas, it might be called a “cow killer” by the locals. The female lays her eggs in bumblebee and cicada killer wasp nests. The eggs hatch into wasp larvae, which kill and eat the insect larvae. The velvet ant larvae then pupate in the nest and hatch into adults.
The adult cow killer can run quickly but don’t try to catch one. Their sting is reputed to be severe enough to kill a cow!