A Dash of Color

I don’t mean flowers or birds, I’m talking about a very special critter called the Velvet Ant. They are found on the ground throughout Northern California and on my land in what I call the Putah Creek Savanna. I don’t see them very often, but I love it when I do. Although the Velvet Ant has a worldwide distribution, this color and density is especially beautiful on my Savanna Hills.

The female looks like a giant ant, in a huge hurry, that doesn’t know where it is going, frantically stopping and starting. But, she’s really a wingless wasp with a potent sting, so don’t pick her up! You have to watch carefully, because she will suddenly disappear before your eyes in the ground debris and may or may not reappear. I haven’t seen the winged males, only the ground dwelling females.

The Velvet Ant belongs to the family Mutillidae, genus Dasymutillaand species bioculata. It is 6 to 20 mm in size and related to the digger wasp. It is very hairy, covered with a dense velvety or silky pile. It is parasitic of ground nesting wasps and bees, sometimes even insects of other orders, which means it leaves its eggs with these other species for them to raise.

I have seen two color phases. The more common velvety yellow, and a rarer orange. When one of these colorful creatures is seen scrambling along, it is a cause for another celebration of nature.

**Look for the Velvet Ant and many other wonderful creatures in my upcoming book on hunting, fishing, animals, and nature. Due out later this year. 

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