The Panda Ant is a most unusual species of insect. Their name derives from the obvious resemblance to a panda in its markings. This remarkable insect is not even an ant. The Panda Ant is actually a variety of wingless wasp! Very little is known of this little seen insect. They have been seen to bring down animals as large as cows with only a few dozen stings.
The Panda Ant is our Organism of the Day from Chile. Actually, it’s not an ant at all. It’s actually a Mutillidae wasp with no wings. They are related to North American Red Velvet wasps/ants and are more generally known as “Cow Killers.” Dun, dun, dun!
No, they don’t actually kill cows, but they do have a nasty sting, some of which are far more painful than others. As a result, the reputation. I’ve been stung by one myself. It’s not pleasant!! Take a look at her cousin’s stinger below. Their stinger, like those of bees and hornets, is a modified egg depositor. Strange and painful! Don’t even try to pet them. Because of their smooth stinger, they, like other wasps, may sting repeatedly.
Velvet ants are distinguished by their velvety appearance. They have some of the toughest exoskeletons in the wasp family despite their fuzzy appearance. When I walked on one (yep, the same one that bit me), it continued to run off into the grass, making strange buzzing sounds. Huh?
Panda ants are solitary, which means they do not dwell in colonies or nests. The females crawl around, mostly feasting on nectar, but they will also feed on a smaller ant, caterpillar, or an unattended pupae/larvae. The males predominantly consume nectar.
Males in the Mutillidae family are often substantially bigger than females, and colour patterns vary greatly between species. The male Panda ant, on the other hand, resembles the females.
Males are likely attracted to the female’s colouring patterns when he flies overhead. When he spots her, the male takes her into the air to mate. She burrows underground after mating, generally into a ground bee or wasp nest. Her eggs are then laid on each pupa in the nest. After that, the larvae feed on their hosts. During her 2-year life cycle, she may lay up to 2000 eggs.
When disturbed, velvet ants create strange high-pitched, vibrating-squealing sounds, but they are otherwise quiet. If you live in North America, you’ve undoubtedly seen their cousins. To hear her cousin in action, watch the video below: