The mutillidae are a family of apocrita hymenopterous insects, including about 7000 species; cosmopolitan, especially in the hot climate regions of Australia and South America.


Modest in size, their common name velvet ant refers to their dense pile of hair, which most often is bright scarlet or orange, but may also be black, white, silver, or gold. 

Modest in size, the insects of this family are commonly called by the name of velvet ant (which refers to their thick pile of hair that covers them, which most often is bright scarlet or orange, but can also be silver, gold, black and white, like panda ants). Their bright colors serve as aposematic signals.

They are known for their extremely painful stings, hence the common name cow killer or cow ant. Unlike a real ant, they do not have drones, workers, and queens. However, velvet ants do exhibit haplodiploid sex determination similar to other members of Vespoidea.

They live solitary as parasites of other insects (Hymenoptera, Diptera and Lepidoptera) in the larval stage.


Sexual dimorphism is very pronounced:

  • Females wingless, reduced eyes, 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, well developed eyes, less hairy, look more like typical wasps, larger than females.

Adult mutillids feed on nectar. Although some species are strictly nocturnal, females are often active during the day.

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