Sunday, August 10, 2008

Velvet Visitor

Do blondes really have more fun?

This is an ant... Of a velvet variety. Velvet ants belong to the family mutillidae. There are over 150 species in North America, several dozen live in the desert southwest. My favorite VA looks like a rolling ball of cotton and even walks in a hurried, erratic fashion. It's also compared to thistle down, or a creosote seed blowing in wind. Female velvet ants are furry and scamper about on the ground, doing their business during daylight hours. They also pack a painful sting. I've been fortunate enough to avoid discovering this.

The males fly, do not sting, and apparently look very little like conspecific females. I've never seen a male, but I've encountered plenty of females in my travels around the country, and each individual was equally captivating. Perhaps it's the striking colors that say "watch out" or their covering of fuzzy hair (setae) that says "I'm awfully cute". I can't figure out which message draws me more.

This female was found on my second story living room floor. Odd. She has very short setae and subdued coloring compared to other VAs -- quite unlike any other I've seen. After some light poking and prodding, she proved herself every bit the feisty and fast VA. I could not resist enjoying her before sending her back outside.


Ted C. MacRae said...

I've seen some crazy hairy mutillids in west Texas. Neat group, although beetles are my gig.

JP said...

Ted: fantastic blog you have. I spent a couple months in Missouri doing grassland bird surveys for the dept. conservation. The birds, buffalo, wildflowers and wildlife were amazing. So were the Cicindellids. Great place.