Panda Ants!

Order: Hymenoptera

Family: Multillidae

Species: Euspinolia militaris

Common Name: The Panda Ant

Contrary to its name, the Panda Ant is, in fact, not an ant at all, but a wasp. It is included in the order Hymenoptera, which includes insects such as wasps, bees and ants.  It is native to Chile, however it has recently been spotted in parts of Mexico and in the southwestern United States.  While the coloration of the Panda Ant is beautiful and resembles the coat of China’s giant panda bear, it serves a much more important function: as a warning coloration to predators.  The sting of this wasp is incredibly painful, giving it and its close relative, the velvet ant, the nickname of “cow killer”.  While the wasp does not actually have a stinger and cannot actually kill cows, the females do use their modified ovipositor to stab enemies. To learn more about ovipositors and their functions feel free to visit this website.

Male Panda Ants do not look anything like their wingless female counterparts.  This phenomenon is known as sexual dimorphism, where the males of this species are several times larger than the female and have wings.  This wasp also has an extremely thick exoskeleton that protects it from predators, allows it to invade nests to deposit its eggs, and to help retain its moisture in the harsh environment it lives in.  These insects prefer to live in hot terrestrial environments that they can burrow in sand to sandy-gravelly free-draining soils and are often seen near coastal regions or in deserts.  The female Panda Ant is a solitary ectoparasitoid wasp who deposits her eggs on the outside of a bee or other wasp larva/pupa as it is developing.  These eggs then hatch and devour the larvae or pupa as their first meal.  To learn more about parasitoids and other ectoparasitoids visit this very informative link.  The diets of the adult wasps consist primarily of general nectar feeding. The Panda Ant also has an interesting mating ritual; the male wasp carries the female on top of his wings while they are mating.  Additionally, this species undergoes holometabolous development with a pupal stage.  While the female Panda Ant can lay up to 2000 eggs every year, this species is on the verge of extinction.  Anteaters are large predators of these wasps and many of the wasps die early on in their life cycle.  Of the Panda Ants that do survive, many can grow up to 8mm long and live up to 2 years!

Scientists are also interested in many other interesting facts about this insect.  The female Panda Ant is very active during the day, while the male is primarily a nocturnal animal.  Additionally, both the males and females of this species have a structure called a stridulitrum on the posterior portion of their bodies that they use to make a chirping sound when they become alarmed.

For more photos of panda ants and other species in the Multillidae family, click here

Here is an additional link to a video describing some of the characteristics of Panda Ants.  Enjoy!

References

1. Hertz, J. C. (2015). Multillidae. from http://entnemdept.ufl.edu/creatures/misc/wasps/mutillidae.htm

2. Dainius. (2015). This Cute Panda-Ant is Actually a “Cow Killer” Wasp. from http://www.boredpanda.com/panda-ant-cow-killer-euspinolia-militaris/

3. Panda Ant. (2015). from http://pandaant.org/where-do-panda-ants-live/

4. Delvan, C. (2014). The Panda Ant. from https://prezi.com/lhbhgywbjmsz/the-panda-ant/

5. Eade, S. (2014). The Panda Ant – Euspinolia militaris. from http://www.seedsofeaden.com/insects-k11/the-panda-ant-euspinolia-militaris-b134.html

 

 

 

 

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