Panda ant (Euspinolia Militaris)

The Euspinolia Militaris (also called Panda Ant – first described in 1938 in Chile) is a member of the family Mutillidae, part of the order Hymenoptera, which also includes wasps, bees, and ants.

Scientific classification

KingdomAnimalia
PhylumArthropoda
ClassInsecta
OrderHymenoptera
SuborderApocrita
SuperfamilyVespoidea
FamilyMutillidae
GenusEuspinolia

Anatomy

While the coloration of the panda ant is beautiful and resembles the fur of the Chinese 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 “cow killer” (it can kill a cow in 6 to 10 painful stings). The venom in the stinger is cytotoxic, meaning it damages the body’s cells. They are not dangerous to humans unless there is an allergy to their toxins. In this case, there is a risk of anaphylactic shock.

Male panda ants look nothing like their wingless female counterparts. This phenomenon is known as sexual dimorphism, where the males of this species are many times larger than the females and have wings. This wasp also has an extremely thick exoskeleton that protects it from predators, allows it to enter nests to lay its eggs, and helps it retain moisture in the harsh environment in which it lives.

Female and male ants behave in the same way and have the same body pattern. Panda ants do not have queens, workers, and drones like real ants. These insects grow to about eight millimeters long and two to three millimeters high.

Habitat

Native to the central coast of Chile and Argentina, but has recently been seen in parts of Mexico and the southwestern United States. These insects prefer to live in mild climates with sandy-gravelly, free-draining soils (in which they can dig a burrow) and are often seen near coastal regions or in deserts. Unlike other insects, panda ants do not live in colonies, but are solitary animals. The panda ant is thermophilic, which means it is more active after sunset when temperatures cool.

Breeding

The Panda ant has an interesting mating ritual; the male carries the female on his wings while they mate. In addition, this species undergoes a holometabolous development with a pupal stage.

The female panda ant is a solitary ectoparasitoid wasp that lays her eggs underground, in the nest of other wasps or similar insects. These eggs then hatch and consume the larvae or pupae of the other insects as their first meal. Usually, the Euspinolia militaris lays its eggs in the nests of other solitary insects so that they have a high survival rate.

While the female panda ant can lay up to 2000 eggs per year, this species is on the verge of extinction. Although this is a considerable number of eggs to ensure their survival, they are unfortunately susceptible to predators who eat a large number of the young panda ants after they hatch due to their bright colors. If these ants survive, many can live up to 2 years, which is quite old for an insect as small as an ant.

Diet

As adults, these insects feed exclusively on pollen and nectar. In the larval stage, however, they feed on other larvae. Specifically, the female lays eggs along with those of other Hymenoptera.

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 nocturnal. In addition, both males and females of this species have a structure called a stridulitrum on the back of their bodies that they use to make a chirping sound when they become alarmed.

References

  1. [Photos] Credits: Javier Gross (CC BY-NC). Chris Lukhaup (CC BY-NC).
  2. [Video] Panda Ant (Velvet Ant) from the family of Mutillidae in Costa Rica. Costa Rica Nature Photography (YouTube).
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