Yellowjackets and Velvet Ants: Stingers in the Yard

A couple of days ago, I had a close encounter with a couple of insects known for their painful stings – Yellowjackets and Velvet Ants. I was mowing my lawn when I accidentally ran over a Yellowjacket nest. Angry Yellowjackets swarmed out of a hole in the ground that I hadn’t noticed before. Luckily I was not stung!

Yellowjacket Emerging From Underground Nest
Yellowjacket Emerging From Underground Nest

Yellowjackets get their name from their bright yellow and black color pattern. They are a type of wasp that builds nests underground. The nests contain hundreds or even thousands of Yellowjackets that aggressively defend the nest if disturbed. Their stings are famously painful, described as a burning sensation. Getting stung by multiple Yellowjackets could quickly become serious.

Velvet Ant
Velvet Ant

The next day, near where I saw the Yellowjackets, I noticed a large, fuzzy black wasp crawling on the side of my house – a Velvet Ant. Despite their name, Velvet Ants are actually wingless female wasps, not true ants. They have a dense layer of hair that gives them a velvety appearance and bright orange-red colors as a warning signal.

Velvet Ants have a famously painful sting, partially due to their large stinger size relative to their body size. Their venom contains chemicals like histamine, phospholipase A2, and serotonin. The pain from a Velvet Ant sting has been compared to being burned by a hot nail. They don’t sting unless provoked, but it’s best to avoid them.

Note: Velvet Ants are nicknamed “Cow Killers” due to the famously intense pain of their sting.

Both Yellowjackets and Velvet Ants play important roles as predators and pollinators, but they can be hazardous to accidentally disturb. As a wildlife photographer, I feel lucky to have gotten photos of these insects without being on the receiving end of their potent stings! I’ll be watching my step more carefully next time I’m working in the yard.

Equipment Used:

  • Camera: Canon EOS R5
  • Lens: Canon RF 100-500 mm F4.5-7.1 L IS USM

Technical Details: First Photo

  • Location: Lavaca (Arkansas)
  • Date and Time Taken: July 31, 2023 (03:37 P. M.)
  • Exposure Mode: Manual
  • Aperture: f8
  • Shutter speed: 1/640
  • ISO: 5000 (Auto)
  • Exp. Comp.: +0.3
  • Focal Length: 500 mm

4 thoughts on “Yellowjackets and Velvet Ants: Stingers in the Yard”

  1. I’ve been on the receiving end of angry yellowjackets, it is no fun for sure! Glad you avoided their stings!

  2. I love looking at your photos and learning something new that’s in my yard. Now I know what those holes are.

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