Female velvet ants practically 'invincible' - study

Four predators attempted to eat the insects in a US study.
Four predators attempted to eat the insects in a US study. Photo credit: YouTube / Brenden Choi

Researchers have discovered that female velvet ants are pretty damn tough. 

The insects, found in the eastern United States, are actually a type of wasp and have a sting so painful it's earned the critters the nickname "cow killer". 

Female velvet ants are wingless wasps that have orange hair and look like hairy ants. But don't be fooled by their harmless appearance - these insects excrete foul chemicals and have a strong exoskeleton. 

Researchers from Hanover College in Indiana tested just how tough red velvet ants really are, the Daily Mail reports. The insects were put up against lizards, shrews, moles, birds and an American toad. 

The only animal that even got close to eating one of the wasps was the toad, which reportedly stopped breathing for 20 seconds and tried to regurgitate it. The toad even backed away when the researchers offered it another red velvet ant. 

"Female velvet ants appear to be nearly impervious to predation by many species whose diet is heavily derived of invertebrate prey," the study says.

The wasps are heavily protected by their exoskeleton, which is too hard for other animals to crunch. Predators are also fended off by a high-pitch squeal the wasps make by rubbing parts of their abdomen together, researcher Brian Gall tells New Scientist

When a mole attempted to attack and eat one of the wasps in the study, it was stung and started "thrashing wildly", the researchers say. In the case with shrews, Daily Mail says the wasps let out their foul smells to successfully fend off the predators. 

Mr Gall says it's no surprise the wasps have developed such great defence mechanisms, since they are slow and walk around at surface level during the day, which makes them a prime target to predators. 

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