Velvet ants are wingless, female wasp
Commonly called "velvet ant," this insect is really a female wingless wasp. It can deliver a painful sting. The male velvet ant is winged and is hard to identify even if found.
The bright red and black colors of the female make her highly visible during summer as she runs around seemingly aimlessly on the ground.
This insect is beautiful with a body covered in vivid red and black hair, but it is one to avoid. Do not pick up or handle a female velvet ant. This energetic insect becomes even more active after being disturbed. It will make an eerie raspy sound if held down in some way.
There are many different colors and kinds of velvet ants throughout North America. The one shown here is most commonly seen in Southeast Missouri.
Through the Woods is a weekly nature photo column by Aaron Horrell. Find this column at semissourian.com to order a reprint of the photo. Find more work by him at the Painted Wren Gallery.