Velvet ant Cicada killers, velvet ants, and Scolia wasps are among the wasps in lawns now. While these insects are intent on carrying out their daily chores and tend to disregard humans, they can cause painful stings if disturbed.
Velvet ants (Figure 1) are striking insects clothed in red and black or orange and black “hairs.” Females are wingless; males have two pairs of black wings. Females have very long stingers; the potency of the punch they pack is alluded to in one of their common names – “cow killer wasps.” Picking one up can provide a memorable experience. These wasps, seen walking determinedly across the lawn, do not have a home, so there is no place to retreat. They pose no threat unless handled or stepped on by bare feet. For more information, refer to UK Entomology fact sheet ENTFact-442.
The Scolia wasp has a black head, thorax, and wings. The front half of the abdomen is black; the back half is dark orange with two distinct yellow bars. Female wasps cruise just above the turf, and occasionally enter the soil in search of white grubs, which serve as food for wasp larva. These wasps can be very abundant in turf where white grubs are numerous; however, the wasps are not aggressive, and in fact, may not sting at all.
These distinctive insects can common in some Kentucky lawns. While their bright warning coloration accentuates their ability to sting, they are not aggressive and control efforts are rarely warranted.
By Lee Townsend, Extension Entomologist