Tuesday, May 10, 2011


It has been almost a year since my last post it would seem, but I have made a lot of progress on the insect collection, believe it or not - I actually went to Virginia and got a lot of very nice butterflies, moths, dragonflies, and cicadas - enough to actually make a couple insect display boxes - not just collections. As it is summer again and I may have more time to collect, among my medical student duties, and my fellow insect-collector is now living with me and not in San Diego anymore, it seemed time to introduce one of my more recent specimens...

Hymenoptera; Aculeata; Vespidoidea; Mutillidae; Dasymutilla (aureola?)
Common Name: Velvet Ant, Cow Killer

The name 'Cow Killer' is an obvious misnomer - while these velvet "ants" (they are actually wasps) can inflict a rather painful sting, they do not kill cattle. When I collected this specimen in the East Bay Area (Sonoma County), I didn't have a collection jar and so I tried to keep it in my sock while I brought it back to the car, and it did manage to sting me even through the sock. Didn't get a welt but it did hurt. Anyhow, these wasps are active during the summer in dry, open habitats. The females are seen crawling on the grounds, often mistaken for large furry ants, and the winged males (which do not sting) fertilize eggs lain by the females. Dasymutilla is a very big genus, with species' colors including red, orange, yellow and white. There is another species of Dasymutilla which looks similar and lives nearby (Dasymutilla coccineohirta) but according to online experts, Dasymutilla aureola's head is wider than the thorax, contrasted to Dasymutilla coccineohirta which has a smaller head. Also, the specimen above probably lost a lot of its hairs in my sock, so it is not the best example of it's species. Hopefully I will be able to look for more insects in the near future and find another one of these fuzzy little guys.

Here are my 'mounted collection' insects - half of the butterflies and moths I caught in Virginia, the Cicadas/Damselflies were caught in Virginia, and all the rest were in California.