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First Scottish sighting of velvet ants in three decades

Mutilla europaea female running across path, heathland, by Louise Hislop
"Although velvet ants are often referred to as ‘cow killers’, there is no evidence they could be dangerous to livestock and they are unlikely to be found on farmland."

Specimens of Mutilla europaea, a rare species of parasitoid wasp commonly known as ‘velvet ants’ because of their distinctive appearance and similarity of females to ants, have been sighted in Scotland for the first time in 32 years.

Dr Jenni Stockan, a research scientist based at the Institute’s Environmental and Biochemical Sciences group in Aberdeen, spotted the velvet ants on permanent upland grassland in Aberdeenshire.

“The insects are rare and probably declining. They are a parasite mainly of bumblebees and honeybees, and so most of the lifecycle is spent inside nests. Adults emerge in the summer and the males will die by the autumn. Females overwinter as adults, sometimes within the bee nest in which they developed,” Dr Stockan said.

According to Dr Stockan, although velvet ants are often referred to as ‘cow killers’, there is no evidence they could be dangerous to livestock and they are unlikely to be found on farmland.

“They do have a painful sting but unless the person is allergic to wasps, it is not dangerous. The sting is believed to be a defence mechanism that allows them to live within bee nests because, so far as we know, they have no predators.

“The females are not aggressive and will only sting if provoked. They also make a squeaking sound if threatened that may act as a warning before they sting. Generally they are found on heaths, moors and forests.”

Mutilla europaea is on the Scottish Biodiversity List, with the earliest sightings reported in 1878 in Strathdon. Elsewhere in the UK, the species can be found in southern England and Yorkshire. It is widespread in Europe, the Near East and North Africa.

Paper: Stockan, J.A. New records of the velvet ant Mutilla europaea L (Hymenoptera: Mutillidae) from north-east Scotland. British Journal of Entomology and Natural History, 2016, Vol.29, No.4, pp.229-230, ref.5.

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Printed from /news/first-scottish-sighting-velvet-ants-three-decades on 24/08/19 07:02:08 PM

The James Hutton Research Institute is the result of the merger in April 2011 of MLURI and SCRI. This merger formed a new powerhouse for research into food, land use, and climate change.