Here’s a surprising fact: cow ants aren’t ants. They’re wasps. You can identify a cow ant by its red coloring and stark black stripe. The females of the species are wingless, which may explain why they are commonly mistaken for ants. It certainly looks startling, but are cow ants dangerous? Keep reading to find out.
What Are Cow Ants?
They go by many names: Dasymutilla occidentalis, red velvet ant, cow ant, or cow killer. It is a parasitoid species, meaning it lays its eggs on other insect hosts which later die when the eggs hatch. These large, hairy, red-and-black wasps pack a painful punch.
True to their species, they are capable of delivering a painful sting. Note that we are talking about the wingless females of the species often mistaken for ants; the males do not sting.
You can differentiate between ants and wasps by looking at the insectoid antennae. Ants usually have L-shaped antennae while wasps have curved antennae.
You may spot these formidable insects if you live anywhere between Florida and Connecticut. They can also be found as far as Texas and Missouri.
They aren’t typically found in urban settings, much preferring to settle at the edge of forests or pastures. If they are in an urban setting, they’ll usually be seen in gardens or lawns.
Cow Ant Sting
You can think of the cow ants’ coloring as a warning: the females deliver a toxic and very painful bite via their stinger! If you do find yourself around this species, make sure to protect your skin and avoid agitating them, because they will retaliate.
Are cow ants deadly? Not so much. They are called “cow killer ants” because their sting can purportedly kill a cow, though this is just an urban myth. The stings are not deadly, but they are quite painful.
Entomologists have warned that cow ant stings are one of the most painful acute stings out there, with the pain lasting potentially up to 30 minutes at the onset.
In general, you’ll want to avoid them and leave them alone if you spot them in the wild. They are not an aggressive species, meaning they will only sting you if they are provoked.
This means that if you spot one, your approach should be to remain calm and let it do its thing. Protect your skin, and keep your distance.
Treating a Cow Ant Sting
If you are stung by a cow ant, you’ll want to disinfect and wash the area thoroughly with soap and water. The pain will be localized to the area of the bite, and you may experience inflammation and redness. This may be alarming, but generally not serious. Take painkillers and use alternating heat and ice compresses if necessary on the affected area.
Allergies to Cow Ants
Note that if you are allergic to cow ants and similar insect bites, seek medical help immediately once bitten. If your loved one is going into anaphylactic shock as a result of getting bitten, they need help as soon as possible.
Let Us Take Care of You
If you have a problem with cow ants in your pasture, lawn, or garden, we can extract them for you. As mentioned, cow ants will leave you alone as long as you leave them alone, but you probably don’t want them around young children or pets.