Dasymutilla occidentalis

Velvet ant

Dasymutilla occidentalis, a “Velvet Ant” also known as the “Cow Killer” due to the severity of its sting, is actually a wasp. This is one of the wingless females.

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I had significant trouble keeping up with her, as she was fully aware of my presence and not particularly pleased. Taking off my lens hood allowed me to get closer without spooking her, but she did her best to avoid the lens.

Most shots were too blurry, even at f/2.8 with my 60mm macro; anything under 1/1000 sec shutter was definitely no good, but luckily ISO 400 on the 30D is nice and clean. Depth of field was, of course, a major issue; look at this middle shot, where the eyes were the intended focal point, yet I just missed and focused on the back of the head. Uncooperative subjects can be frustrating.

I understand why ring flashes come in handy. Tracking this girl with a tripod would be impossible.

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These wasps are parasites, and take over bumble bee nests and the like. I found myself in much peril chasing her across this patch of yard, as her hosts were more mobile even than she.

3 thoughts on “Dasymutilla occidentalis”

  1. Since I’ve seen these pictures, I’ve noticed 2 of these “Red Velvet Ants” in my backyard and one on the houseboat. I don’t ever recall seeing one before these pictures in the real world. What are the chances?

  2. Watch out! They’re cool to watch, but they sting like a mf! They’re not all that uncommon, but most people quit playing in the yard after they get to be our age… ;)

  3. Bo,

    I’m an indie author who is about to self-publish my second book. The first was a dog book and the second is a Yankee in the South type book. As Yankee’s encountering bizarre bugs is part of the book, I’d like to include photos of insects. They’ll end up in greyscale to keep the book price affordable for the paperback version, though the Kindle DRM version may be in color. You’ve got the best Cow Killer photo for a greyscale image that I’ve seen. I was wondering if you’d give me permission to use it for this book. I’d put a link to your chosen website in the book and give you credit. Never hurts to ask :-) I’ve requested a Sony HX100V camera for my birthday but it could be two years before I see another in our yard so I’m relegated to permissions from someone else.

    Thank you, and you take awesome photos!
    Sharon Delarose

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