Creature Feature: Panda Ant

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.

A female Panda Ant found in a garden in Santiago, Chile. Photograph by Christian Lukhaup.
A female Panda Ant found in a garden in Santiago, Chile. Photograph by Christian Lukhaup.

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

Female Panda Ant.
Female Panda Ant.

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.

Female Panda Ant on the hand of some brave human.
Female Panda Ant on the hand of some brave human.

7 Comments Add yours

  1. Richard Averill says:

    Thought it was a fuzz ball going the wrong way as the wind came up out of the canyon. I took 3 pictures of it and tonight we figured it out. Question is; I found it in the canyon near where I live. Utah!!! Not close to Chile. Some info says near extinction? Yet here it is. Interested? Leaving email etc.


  2. Karen says:

    Someone please tell me how many eggs the female has at one time!!!!My granddaughter needs to know for a project.Help!!!


    1. They can lay as many as 2000 eggs a year. Panda Ants parasitize other insects as part of their reproductive cycle. A larval Panda Ant eats into and grows inside of another insects larva, eventually killing the host. This means that the number of eggs that a Panda Ant lays in limited by the number of host insect larva that the female Panda Ant finds (she lays one egg beside each host larva).


  3. peggy says:

    i found this place very interesting and help full for a project thanks. and are they vertebrates or invertebrates?


    1. All ants, and for that matter all insects, are invertebrates. Glad the info was helpful!


  4. Andy says:

    I’m slowly becoming more interested in this animal


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