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Issue 55 - 2015
Flying free, but where to?
International Pangolin Day emphasises pangolin plight
Mitocondrial DNA of the African penguin
Egyptian collaboration strengthens goat research
Arachophobes be on the look-out
This is no relative of the panda
Staff profiles
Conservation Grapevine
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Ant what you think it is

  Little is known about these wingless wasps, but what is well known to many is their size. When fully grown they measure a mere eight-millimetres in length and 2-3-millimetres in height. Pint-sized at best.
Photo Credit: Pinterest
It isn’t quite what you would expect and it’s not your average garden variety, either.

First discovered in 1938 this charismatic ant from the central coastline of Chile in South America is quite an elusive little critter.

Nicknamed the panda ant (Euspinolia militaris) for its markings that resemble those of a giant panda, it isn’t actually an ant – it’s a species of wingless wasp. These wingless wasps are related to the red velvet ant, also known as a “cow killer”, due to its painful sting which is believed to be strong enough to subdue a grown cow.

These bugs may be cute as far as wasps go but don’t let their bright colours trick you into handling them with your bare hand; they produce a painful sting when handled. In fact, their bright colour is proof of them being dangerous or venomous.

However, all does not look well for the panda ant. It is considered to be one of the nearly extinct species in the world even though it lays in the region of 2000 eggs in a year. Although this is a considerable amount of eggs to ensure survival they are prone to predators that eat a good number of the young panda ants after they hatch due to their bright colours.

In the cases that these ants survive they live to the ripe old age of two-years (considered old for an insect the size of an ant).

They feed on nectar and the males tend to feed more at night than the females. The females are also often wingless, huge and have fur-covered bodies. They also have a tough exoskeleton that helps them while invading their prey’s nests and also in retaining moisture since they mostly occupy dry areas.

Another interesting panda ant fact is that they exhibit extreme sexual dimorphism meaning that the males and females of the same species look different making it easy to identify them. The males are usually very large as compared to the females and they are the ones that carry the female while mating.

After mating, the female will look for an insect nest such as ground nesting bee or a wasp nest where it deposits its eggs near each larva or pupa in those nests. After this, the young panda ants will develop and eventually kill their immobile pupa /larva hosts after a few days.

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