There are some really cute insects out there, and one genus of especially cute insects is the genus Euspinolia, called the Panda Ants. Panda Ants are actually not ants at all, but instead are wasps of the family Mutillidae, commonly called the Velvet Ants. The Panda Ant was first described to science in 1938 and is found in dry coastal regions of Chile. Like many wasp species, and unlike true ants, Panda Ants do not live in colonies and also do not have queens and drones and workers. Panda Ants get their name from the dramatic black and white coloration of the females. However, don’t get too comfortable around a Panda Ant because they get their other common name of Cow Killer Ants from the incredibly painful sting they can deliver from their unusually long and maneuverable stinger. Only
females can sting since the stinger in these wasps is a modification of the ovipositor.
These wasps have a lot of really cool and interesting adaptations. One is their extreme sexual dimorphism. Females have the stingers mentioned above, but they have no wings. The males are larger and while they lack stingers, they have wings. The differences between the sexes are so dramatic that it is often very difficult to determine what the two sexes of a given species are unless the two are actually seen mating. The males are in many species are so much larger than the females that they actually pick the females up and carry them in flight during mating. After mating, the male sets the female down and she then crawls into the underground burrow of other bee or wasp species. The larva of these other ground-nesting bees and wasps will become the hosts for the growing Panda Ant larva. What happens is the female Panda Ant will lay a single egg beside each host larva or pupae she finds. These eggs hatch and the Panda Ant larva eats its way into the host larva. The Panda Ant grows inside of the host larva, feeding off its tissue, eventually killing it. Once the larva Panda Ant matures into an adult it only feeds on nectar.
Another cool adaptation is the incredibly strong exoskeletons of these wasps, so strong t
hat entomologists often have difficulty getting a steel pin through collected specimens! This hard and strong exoskeleton helps reduce water loss, which is useful because these wasps live in dry and sandy regions of Chile where water retention is a major concern. Their hard exoskeletons also allow them to invade the underground nests of their host species.
Very little is known about the status and population levels of these wasps. Due to their limited geographic range and the restricted nature of western side of the Andes Mountains, they will probably be strongly effected by climate change as the dry conditions that exist within the temperature ranges these insects seem to favor are pushed uphill.