Sunday, August 28, 2011

Velvet Ants and Nighthawks

   Either you've never heard of Velvet Ants or Nighthawks, or you have heard of them, maybe even seen one or the other, and you're wondering what the heck they have in common with each other. Well, the link is we saw both this week. Two fairly uncommon creatures and we saw both!

   Both are extremely difficult to photograph, constantly moving. One is tiny and close, the other large and far away.

   The Velvet Ant isn't even an ant! It's a wasp! The males have wings, the females don't. Velvet Ants are famous for their horribly painful sting, for which one species is nicknamed the Cow Killer. Thankfully I have not experienced this firsthand. They also don't live in colonies like ants, they are solitary. That helped us in determining that this was not an ant. We only saw this one individual, and we saw her on the same plant, multiple days. There are dozens of species, some more hairy, some less. We identified this one as Dasymutilla bioculata.

   Thanks goes out to Jeff and his dedication in trying to get a photo of this thing to document our sighting.

   Which brings me to the Nighthawks...of which we don't have a photo of our own, but I thought you birders out there might be interested in our sighting. Autumn is officially on its way when the Nighthawks pass through. We saw a few hundred of them between 7:30 and 8:00pm Thursday evening dipping and diving over the parking lots of Lewis-Gale Hospital, Ridgewood Farms, and Hidden Valley golf course. Haven't seen any since.

*By the way, we haven't picked a winner yet in Fridays Caption Contest, entries are still coming in and there's some good ones, feel free to keep sending them in. Thanks to all who have participated!

*Also, this is still the same blog, as you can see I'm experimenting with the layout and appearance.


  1. I like the new look...and the hairy ant/wasp thing.

  2. I have not seen velvet ants before, interesting pattern on their rears.

    I have heard nighthawks and seen their silhouettes in the sky but never in great numbers during migrations. That's really cool to have seen them in numbers.