Sunday, August 11, 2013

Red Velvet Ant

Tonight I took something out to our backyard--a garden gnome that's been in our bathroom for the last seven years, if you must know--and as I did I happened to glance over at the ant hill that's cropped up in the last couple of days just at the edge of the patio. There I saw the biggest, most unusual ant I'd ever seen. It looked to be a full inch long, and was bright reddish-orange. It was huge and bright!

I looked around for something to capture it in, in case Fernbank was interested, and found a half-crushed plastic flower pot. I managed to corral the little guy into it, but it just fell right out of the drain holes in the bottom. (They were pretty big drain holes.) The little guy was scurrying around our patio, fleeing from me as though I wanted to eat it, which I most definitely did not. I got a little green plastic container and put it over the little critter, which trapped it. A lot of other insects would just crawl under such a thing, but this one was too big for that.

I ran into the kitchen where my wife and daughters were preparing for evening snack. "You won't believe this ant out here!" I said. They came out to have a look, and I lifted the plastic container and we watched it scurry around for a couple of minutes.

I tried to catch it again in a shoe box, but my youngest daughter didn't want her shoe box used that way--"Don't put it in there!" (They are brand new shoes with Merida from Brave on them, and she's still attached to the box.) So I gave up and let the giant little critter flee off into the grass.

Here's the thing, though: As I was trying to get the bug into the shoe box, using the green plastic container in one hand and holding the shoe box with the other, I accidentally trapped its hind legs under the green container, and it gave a high-pitched scream.

This insect shrieked in pain. Probably a little frustration, too.

I've never heard an insect cry out like that. It was unsettling and surreal, like something out of a "Twilight Zone" episode. I was suddenly aware of our shared sentience, and the life force and struggle for survival that we have in common. "All creatures, great and small..." and all that.

However, it didn't seem to be permanently hurt, though, and I let it run away and I came inside to research what this thing was on the Internet.

It's a female red velvet ant, which is actually not an ant at all but a wingless wasp. They're about 3/4 of an inch long, and not aggressive--however, when they aren't able to run away, they can give a very painful sting. Fortunately, I didn't feel that sting tonight. (I know it was a female, by the way, because males have wings.)

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