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University of Kentucky Department of Entomology

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Velvet Ants and Cicada Killers

by Stephanie Bailey
Entomology Extension Specialist

Some interesting insects that arrive with the dog days of summer are the velvet ants and cicada killers. It's hard not to notice the "hairy ants" that are present in yards and the gigantic "hornets" which circle above lawns and at parks.

Velvet ants are actually wasps, belonging to the family Mutillidae. The wingless females (males are winged) are distinguished from true ants by being densely covered with hairs, and also by only having only one constriction in the abdomen (ants have two constrictions with a "hump" in-between).velvet ant
USDA Plant Disease and Insect Slide Set

The females are known to inflict a painful sting, so it is wise not to bother them. Velvet ant larvae are parasites of the larvae and pupae of many insects, including wasps, bees, beetles, and flies. The adults feed on nectar.

The huge wasps which are seen flying above lawns and leaving mounds and burrows behind are known as cicada killers.Cicada killer wasp
University of Florida Entomology

They prefer to dig burrows in well-drained, sunny, sparsely vegetated areas. Cicada killers are often mistaken for hornets, because of similar black and yellow patterns on their bodies. Cicada killers do not attack humans, but they will readily inflict a painful sting if handled. A cicada killer seeks out her prey on the trunks and lower branches of trees, using her sting to paralyze it. The cicada is then turned over and carried belly-up back to the nest. Once a cicada killer has provisioned her burrow or nest, she lays an egg, then seals off the nest to protect her offspring. The larva will consume the cicada, and then overwinter, waiting to pupate until spring. Adult emergence of cicada killers lasts from the end of June throughout the summer.

Insects All Year cartoon courtesy of C. Ware, copyright 1998

Original document: 7 July 1997
Last updated: 5 August 1999

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