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Family Mutillidae - Velvet Ants

Dasymutilla occidentalis - female Dasymutilla - Dasymutilla bioculata - female Velvet Ant? - Dasymutilla vestita - female Mutillid 2 - Dasymutilla vesta - female Velvet Ant - Dasymutilla gorgon - female Spotted (velvet?) ant - Dasymutilla quadriguttata  Aculeata - Sphaeropthalma marpesia - male Mutillid? - Dasymutilla - male
Classification
Kingdom Animalia (Animals)
Phylum Arthropoda (Arthropods)
Subphylum Hexapoda (Hexapods)
Class Insecta (Insects)
Order Hymenoptera (Ants, Bees, Wasps and Sawflies)
No Taxon (Aculeata - Ants, Bees and Stinging Wasps)
Superfamily Pompiloidea (Spider Wasps, Velvet Ants and allies)
Family Mutillidae (Velvet Ants)
Other Common Names
Velvet Wasps
Solitary Ants
Pronunciation
mew-TILL-ih-dee
Explanation of Names
Mutillidae Latreille 1802
"Velvet Ant" refers to the hairy, ant-like body
Numbers
~393 spp. in 18 genera our area(1)(2)(3)(4); >4,300 spp. in 210 genera total(5)
Size
6-30 mm
Identification
Females wingless, very hairy, and may look like large ants but have no node (bump) on "waist" between abdomen and thorax (ants have one or two)
Males winged, less hairy, look more like typical wasps, larger than females
The sexual dimorphism caused grave taxonomic confusion: genders are difficult to associate and males & females of a single sp. often get placed in separate genera(6) (more here)
Key to genera in(2); guide to SC fauna in(7)
Range
Worldwide, mostly in drier areas; in NA, mostly southwestern
Food
Adults (males at least) are observed taking nectar
Life Cycle
Ectoparasitoids of immature insects, esp. bees and solitary wasps (also flies, limacodid moths, beetles, and cockroaches)(6)
Remarks
Certain species (such as Dasymutilla occidentalis and D. klugii) can give a quite painful sting if handled. Note, however, that sting pain intensity varies considerably between species, and none of our species are considered to be medically significant.(8)

Sting intensity can be quite variable even with a genus. Dasymutilla, for instance, includes the infamous D. occidentalis and D. klugii, which are known for their very large size (nearly 1 inch) and painful sting. D. klugii specifically ranks a 3 out of 4 on the Schmidt sting pain index and is the only species of velvet ant formally given this rank. In contrast, the petite D. thetis (~5 mm) only ranks a 1. Medium-sized species (less than a half inch) such as D. gloriosa rank at a 2. Most species are not formally ranked but notably comprise primarily medium-sized species.(8)

Terms such as "cow killer" and "cow ant" refer to a specific species (Dasymutilla occidentalis) and should not be used to refer to this family as a whole. They are also misnomers and significantly exaggerate the sting pain.

Similarly, the term "panda ant" refers to a single species (Euspinolia militaris) which does not occur anywhere in North America. It should never be used to refer to any of our species.
Internet References
Fact sheet (Hertz 2013)(9)
Works Cited
1.Catalog of Hymenoptera in America North of Mexico
Karl V. Krombein, Paul D. Hurd, Jr., David R. Smith, and B. D. Burks. 1979. Smithsonian Institution Press.
2.A key to genera and subgenera of Mutillidae (Hymenoptera) in America North of Mexico with description of a new genus
Manley D.G., Pitts J.P. 2002. J. Hym. Res. 11: 72-100.
3.Keys to Nearctic Velvet Ants of the Genus Dasymutilla Ashmead (Hymenoptera: Mutillidae)
4.Revision of Odontophotopsis Viereck (Hymenoptera: Mutillidae), Part 1, with a description of a new Genus Laminatilla
James M. Pitts. 2007. Zootaxa 1619(1): 1-43.
5.Order Hymenoptera. In: Zhang Z-Q (ed) Animal biodiversity: An outline of higher-level classif. and survey of taxonomic richness
Aguiar AP, Deans AR, Engel MS, Forshage M, Huber JT, Jennings JT, Johnson NF, Lelej AS, Longino JT, Lohrmann V, Mikó I, Ohl M. 2013. Zootaxa 3703: 51–62.
6.Evolution of the Insects
David Grimaldi and Michael S. Engel. 2005.
7.The velvet ants (Hymenoptera: Mutillidae) of South Carolina
Manley D.G. 1991. South Carolina Agricultural Experiment Station Tech. Bull. 1100, 55 pp.
8.The Sting of the Wild: The Story of the Man Who Got Stung for Science
Justin O. Schmidt. 2016. John Hopkins University Press: Baltimore, MD.
9.University of Florida: Featured Creatures