The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is warning visitors of a tiny yet fearsome insect with a sting so painful that it’s been dubbed the “cow killer ant.”
Also known as the “red velvet ant,” the Dasymutilla occidentalis isn’t actually an ant, but a type of wingless, parasitic, ground-dwelling wasp.
According to The Washington Post, a sting from this fuzzy, red, three-quarter-inch insect “isn’t venomous enough to kill a cow, but to a human, it feels as though it could.” Only the females are wingless and able to deliver an excruciating sting. Male cow killers are rarely seen, and unlike their female counterparts, are able to fly.
Horrified yet? Just wait until you hear how they reproduce.
“Female Cow Killer Ants seek out the underground dwellings of other wasps, such as the Eastern Cicada Killer, and will lay her eggs on top of the developing host larvae,” Great Smoky Mountains National Park explained on Facebook last week. “The cow killer eggs will soon hatch and feed on the larval cicada killers, gradually consuming them until the cow killers are ready to pupate.”
The “cow killer ant” is typically found in the summer and are native to eastern North America. We recommend giving them a wide berth if you come across one in the wild.