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Impurest's Guide to Animals #123 - Eastern Velvet Ant

Hmm May sure has been a roller-coaster of weather, events and so on and so forth. One thing that did happen was an issue of the Great White Shark, although thankfully one didn’t appear on my surveys. This week we have the American counterpart to something that did. Hope you guys enjoy.

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Issue #123 – Eastern Velvet Ant

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[1]

Kingdom – Animalia

Phylum – Arthropoda

Class – Insecta

Order – Hymonoptera

Family – Mutillidae

Genus – Dasymutilla

Species – occidentalis

Related Species – There are numerous species of Velvet Ant species across Asia, Europe and the Americas (1)

Range – The Eastern Velvet Ant in a band of states between Connecticut and Missouri in the North down to Florida and Texas in the South

Velvet Assassin

The Eastern Velvet Ant is a relatively insect which reaches a length of 2cm. Despite the name ‘Velvet Ant’ the species, and indeed all the members of the family Mutillidae, are in fact solitary wasps rather than ants, this confusion probably comes from the behaviour and ant like appearance of the wingless females. The bodies of the adult are covered in dense orange velvet like hairs which contrast with the insects’ plain black body.

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Adult Velvet Ants are nectavores, with both the male and female fuelling their short adult lives on nectar. Female Velvet Ants are also brood parasites, wandering into the nests of ground dwelling wasps such as the Cicada Hawk (Sphecius speciosus) and laying an egg in one of its hosts completed brood cells. If caught by its soon to be victim, the female Velvet Ant can deliver a painful sting (2), one whose pain was incorrectly stated to be able to kill a cow, thus earning the name Cow Killer Wasp despite such claims being little more than tall tales. In addition to the chemical defence, Velvet Ants also squeak by rubbing hairs on the abdomen to alert other Velvet Ants to danger, as well as to try and deter any predator trying to attack them.

Both male and female Velvet Ants call to each other using vibration created from parts of the abdomen to locate each other for mating. These sounds range from a purring squeak produced by the female, to a buzzing hiss produced by the male using his wings to aid in making the sound (3). Shortly after mating the female lays her eggs and leaves, with the pale limbless larvae hatching quickly and devouring the eggs and already hatched larvae of its host before the adult wasp realises that its own brood has been killed. After going through several moults, the larva pupates and eventually emerges as an adult.

Nature’s Most Wanted #6 – Tawny Crazy Ant

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[3]

The Tawny Crazy Ant (Nylanderia fulva) is a small red ant that reaches a length of 3mm. The species is as a whole migratory, with no centralised nest, with a colony moving as much as 200m per year under their own power. A pest in their native habitats in South America, the Tawny Crazy Ant has spread through Central America into the Southern United States, with little opposition, in part due to their small size and the concentrated effort in stalling the advance of the Red Imported Fire Ant (Solenopsis invicta).

Ironically Tawny Crazy Ants often displace the larger Fire Ants when they move into the area, and possess the ability to reduce the toxicity of Fire Ant Venom when the two species compete over resources. That said the Crazy Ant has an even more devastating effect on the environment then their rivals, with the smaller species farming large numbers of sap sipping aphids that they use as a food source which leads to grassland and pasture being sucked dry of nutrients in only a few years. In addition to destroying grazing land, Tawny Crazy Ants are attracted to electrical discharges, with multiple ants chewing (for unknown reasons) on power cable, often leading to power blackouts.

At current there is no cumulative estimate of the damage done by the ants and the cost of eradication and resource repair. While pesticides and fumigating of high traffic areas used by the Tawny Crazy Ant are effective at initially repelling the invaders, such protection is often breeched a few months later. To compound the destructive effect, a second Crazy Ant Species (4), the Caribbean Crazy Ant (Nylanderia pubens) has made landfall in Florida, and show similar behaviour to their South American cousins, and may potentially double the amount of money spent to halt what is now a double pronged invasion.

Bibliography

1 - www.arkive.org

2 - Schmidt, J. O. And Blum, M. S. (1977), Adaptations and Responses of Dasymutilla occidentalis (Hymenoptera: Mutillidae) to Predators. Entomologia Experimentalis et Applicata, 21: 99–111.

3 - Hayward G. Spangler, Donald G Manley, Sounds Associated with the Mating Behavior of a Mutillid Wasp. Annals of the Entomological Society of America May 1978, 71 (3) 389-392;

4 - http://www.iucngisd.org/gisd/species.php?sc=1553

Picture References

1 - https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/7/76/Dasymutillaoccidentalis.jpg/701px-Dasymutillaoccidentalis.jpg

2 - https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/736x/5c/79/42/5c794242bd7cac9fe8b1a8c64ffb7042.jpg

3 - https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/63/Tawny_crazy_ant_(Nylanderia_fulva)_Queen.jpg

And with that we prepare for an invasion of ants, not to mention a minor inconveniencing from some wasps trying to be ants. Next week we have an arboreal issue of IGTA requested by @laflux. But until then make sure to critic, comment and suggest future issues as well as making sure you check past issues in Impurest’s Bestiary.

Many Thanks

Impurest Cheese

Want more IGTA? If you’re team ant, click here to see the terrible Trap Jaw Ant. Or if you’re team wasp, er hang on…we haven’t covered any wasps yet. So instead, click here to see more cloak and dagger brood parasitism from the Neon Cuckoo Bee

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