OCTOBER 30, 2021
YOUR WEEKLY DOSE OF WOWZERS AND WONDER FROM THE NATURAL WORLD
Today’s featured creature has a bit of a confusing name, but it’s definitely Wowzerful!
We’re talking about the tiny but intimidating velvet ant!
Don’t let the pretty colours and small size fool you.
Velvet ants pack a nasty punch—or sting, to be more precise.
The pain caused by their sting has earned them the nickname “cow killers,” since it’s allegedly enough to kill a cow!
They’re native to nearly all parts of the world but most prefer to live in hot, dry regions.
And here’s the kicker… these little guys and gals aren’t even ants at all!
Instead, they’re hairy wasps!
But because of their name, and the fact that the females are wingless, it’s easy to see how one might assume they are ants.
The red velvet ant species is the most common in North America.
Fully grown, they can reach 2.2 centimetres (0.87 inches) long, making them the largest of all velvet ants!
Female velvet ants have a stinger so long you can see it with the naked eye.
Males don’t have stingers at all. Instead, they have four transparent wings they use to zip about the sky, as they gather pollen or look for a mate.
You’ll find velvet ants in a variety of colours, including shades of yellow, brown, red, and black.
Regardless of their colour, they’re all fuzzy and relatively easy to identify.
Their bright colouring is not a coincidence.
Rather, it’s nature’s way of saying, “Hey! Don’t mess with me!“
But unless you try to cause trouble by swatting at one, you don’t need to worry too much about that sting as they’re not known to be aggressive.
Living for only about a year, velvet ants will spend most of their brief life looking for a mate.
Velvet ants are parasitic, often laying their eggs in the nests of other wasps or ground-nesting bees.
Once born, the velvet ant grub will consume everything in the nest.
And as long as they make it out of their grub or pupae stage, it’s smooth sailing from there!
Adult velvet ants live primarily on nectar and water, just like many other wasps or bees.
With healthy populations around the world, there’s little worry of velvet ants going anywhere anytime soon.
If you live in a dry region, take a look around on the sand and rocks during a warm summer day, and you might spot one of these colourful insects for yourself!
While the velvet ant’s sting is extremely painful, its venom is actually less dangerous than that of a honey bee.
Don’t let that fur fool you! Velvet ants have a hard shell that can withstand a shocking amount of pressure and ward off virtually all other stinging bugs.
When threatened, most velvet ants will try to run away. But if they stop and squeak, it’s time to back away. That’s right, they squeak so loud we can hear them!
Velvet ants have been around a long time! The earliest known examples have been found in the Dominican Republic, where they were preserved in 25- to 40-million-year-old amber deposits!
Some cool stuff from around the web we think you and your kids will enjoy.
A River Runs Through It
Click on this map to make it rain and the simulation will find a path to the ocean!
An Octopus as a Pet?
Watch this scientist and his daughter bond with an unusual pet: a live octopus!
BBC Earth | YouTube
Aquaman’s got nothing on these seven super sharks. Find out what makes them so superb!
BBC Earth | YouTube
This Isn’t Sesame Street
Scientists have discovered that ancient tribes used to befriend these seriously big (and dangerous) birds.
— Vesta M. Kelly
Where do cows go on Saturday nights?
To the MOOO-vies!
Today’s email was written by Joshua J. with contributions by Geoff W. and Branden S.
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