Interesting Insects

— Written By and last updated by

Insects are fascinating. Their shape, color, variety, and life style are a constant source of fascination. This week several interesting insects were brought into the Caldwell Cooperative Extension Center. I thought I would share a few of the insects for all to enjoy the wonder of nature.

I always enjoy seeing a ‘velvet ant’.

Velvet ants are wingless female wasps. Sometimes they are also called "cow killers"

Velvet ants are wingless female wasps. Sometimes they are also called “cow killers”

Although they are not really ants, these big fuzzy black and red creatures are actually female wingless wasps. They are sometimes called ‘cow killers’ because of their powerful sting. However, there have never been any confirmed reports of these insects killing livestock. It is interesting to note that the males do have wings.

The velvet ant is actually a parasite of ground nesting bees. Their presence is a sign of a healthy ecosystem. It indicates that there are enough ground nesting bees to support a population of parasites. It almost sounds counter intuitive, but velvet ants are a good sign. They are solitary just like ground nesting bees and really don’t have an impact on their population.

If you see a velvet ant, just enjoy watching it race by. Don’t try to pick it up with your hand. It can give a powerful sting.

One of the largest tiger moths in NC, this is a distinct moth with black circular spots

One of the largest tiger moths in NC, this is a distinct moth with black circular spots

A new insect to my collection this year is the giant leopard moth. This is a striking moth which is distinctly white background with black open-circular spots. Some spots are hollow and some are solid in color. The adults have a wingspan of 3 to 4 inches.

The larvae, or caterpillars, of the great leopard moths are often referred to as “Woolly Bears” because the caterpillars are black and fuzzy, with tufts of black stiff hairs that radiate from their red bodies. The caterpillars dine on a diversity of plants including maple and willow trees, as well as weeds such as dandelion. These insects are not considered a pest.

The last insect for this week is the Scoliid wasp. These are active now in lawns and fields across Caldwell County. These wasps are dark metallic colored insects with light yellow spots on their sides.

Scoliid wasps are beneficial insects. This adult wasps is feeding on a nectar and pollen

Scoliid wasps are beneficial insects. This adult wasps is feeding on a nectar and pollen

The wasps are actually beneficial because they help control grubs in the soil.

You can watch this happen. Watch the female wasp as she flies low over the soil in search of a grub. They often fly a figure eight pattern. When she finds a grub, she stings the grub in the throat. This paralyzes the grub and allows the wasp to lay an egg. She will do this into the third body segment of the grub. The paralyzed grub now serves as a fresh food supply for the developing wasp larva. Although the grub at first appears to be dead, after a day it will move its legs. Once a grub has been stung, it never recovers. Its purpose is now to be a nursery and food supply for the wasp’s developing young.

Scoliid wasps are important natural control of green June beetle grubs. Adult wasps feed on nectar and pollen. They will not sting unless greatly aggravated. The wasps burrow into the soil to spend the night. Sometimes these wasps are quite abundant as they fly their mating dances. It is often during these mating flights that homeowners call the Cooperative Extension Center with concern. However, after mating, females spend more time digging for grubs and the wasps become less noticeable.

Written By

Photo of Seth NagySeth NagyCounty Extension Director (828) 757-1290 seth_nagy@ncsu.eduCaldwell County, North Carolina
Updated on Aug 26, 2014
Was the information on this page helpful? Yes check No close
This page can also be accessed from: go.ncsu.edu/readext?313012