Our Organism of the Day hails from Chile, The Panda Ant. Well, it’s not really an ant at all. It’s actually a wingless wasp of the family Mutillidae. They are related to the Red Velvet wasps/ants of North America and are more commonly known as, “Cow Killers”. Dun, dun, dun!!!
No, they don’t really kill cows but they do have a horrible sting, some much worse than others. Hence the reputation. I have personally been stung by one. Not pleasant!! Look at the stinger of her cousin below. Just like in bees and hornets their stinger is actually a modified egg depositor. Weird, and Ouch! Yeah, don't try to pet them. Like all wasps, they can sting over and over again due to their smooth stinger.
A common trait among velvet ants is that they are well, velvety. They are known for being quite fuzzy-looking; yet, they have some of the hardest exoskeletons in the wasp family. I stepped on one once (yes, the same one that stung me) only to see it continue to run off into the grass making weird buzzing sounds. Huh?
Panda ants are solitary which means they don’t live in nests or communities. The females crawl around feeding primarily on nectar but they will take advantage of an occasional smaller ant, caterpillar, or an unguarded pupae/larvae. The males feed primarily on nectar.
On average, the males are much larger than the females in the Mutillidae family and coloration patterns can vary greatly between many species. The male Panda ant, however, looks somewhat similar to the females.
The female’s coloration patterns are probably what helps males identify her as he flies overhead. Once the male spots her, he lifts her into the air to mate. After mating she goes underground, usually burrowing into a ground bee or wasp nest. She then lays her eggs on each pupa in the nest. The larvae then feed on their hosts. She can lay up to 2000 eggs within her 2-year life-cycle.
Velvet ants make peculiar high pitched, vibrating-squealing sounds when bothered but are generally silent. You have probably seen their cousins if in North America. Check out the video below to hear her cousin in action: