The panda ant (Euspinolia militaris) is a species of hymenoptera insect from the Mutillidae family. Despite looking like an ant and being referred as such, it is in fact a form of wingless wasp.
This species was found in 1938. It inhabits the Chilean sclerophyll forests at Coquimbo. The animal is colloquially known as panda ant due to its fur and coloration; with white coat covering all of its head except the eyes, and black and white spots appearing over the rest of its segments. And that is what it makes it look like a panda.This insect is also known as cow-killer. Females possess thicker fur but lack wings.This is characteristic of sexual dimorphism: as the females are wingless and males usually have wings. Also When fully grown, it can measure up to 8 millimeters in length, and 2-8 millimeters in height
This species mainly feeds on nectar from plants.
The Mutillid females are also known to be ectoparasites of mature larvae or pre-pupae of other insects, mostly of other Hymenoptera species.
The colors that the Panda Ant possesses are aposematic, meaning that the black and white color serves as a warning to predators and repels them. These colors are unique because the panda ant is the only wasp to bare these colors. The panda ant also has other defense mechanisms besides its aposematic colors, such as a painful and powerful sting, and the ability to produce audible squeaking once its body sends distress signals to its organs in the abdomen.  They also have a very tough exoskeleton The species may be endangered due to excessive predation, despite a fertile yearly spawning numbering thousands. The furry panda ant lives for about two years. They are related to the Red Velvet Ant, which are also called Cow Killers.
Stridulation is an acoustic behavior that is well studied in Arthropods; essentially, it’s the result of sound production from rubbing two rigid parts of the body. The emission of distress stridulation is a common defense mechanism among insects, including species from the order Hymenoptera (ants, bees and wasps). Wasps from the family Mutillidae (also known as velvet ants) emit audible distress stridulations when attacked.
This behavior has been observed on both sexes of Mutillids where the stridulatory organ is located on the second and third termite of the gaster, and consists of a file and a scraper. Sound is produced when the file rubs the scraper, activated by dorsoventral movements. Although the function of stridulation in Mutillids is not clear, it has been proposed that these sounds may act as a defense mechanism or mating signal.
They exhibit extreme sexual dimorphism, thus making it difficult for people to differentiate between the two sexes. The males and female are so different, it’s difficult for many people to determine the two sexes are actually the same species unless they are seen in the mating process. If one is lucky to find them mating, one discovers that the male is actually larger than the female. This is to win over the female as a mate. Just like in most Hymenoptera species, the male panda ant carries the female aloft while mating. Such feature is also common in the correlated family 'Tiphiidae'. After mating, the female gets inside an insect nest, such as a wasp nest or bumblebee nest, and deposits one egg close to each pupa or larva already in the nest. The young panda ants then develop or grow as "idiobiont ectoparasitoids" which means that they eventually kill their immobile pupa or larva host within just a few days time. Only females have stingers, which are modified ovipositors. Males typically operate at night, while the female ’ants’ are more active during the day.
This species is extremely rare, laying about 2000 eggs per year. While to many that might look like a lot, few survive due to their bright colors standing out to predators. Their short lifespan (two years) also factors into their low survival rate.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Mutillidae.|
- Pagliano, Guido (2011-10-31). "I Mutillidae (Hymenoptera) della collezione Zavattari Le collezioni del Museo Regionale di Scienze Naturali di Torino. II". Bollettino. Museo Regionale di Scienze Naturali. Torino (in Italian). 28–1: 37–60 – via ResearchGate.
- Finley, Reginald V. (2016-01-17). "The Panda Ant (Euspinolia militaris)". Exploring Our Planet's Amazing Biodiversity. Amazing Life. Retrieved 2018-01-10.
- Gall, Brian G.; Spivey, Kari L.; Chapman, Trevor L.; Delph, Robert J.; Brodie, Edmund D.; Wilson, Joseph S. (2018). "The indestructible insect: Velvet ants from across the United States avoid predation by representatives from all major tetrapod clades". Ecology and Evolution. 8 (11): 5852–5862. doi:10.1002/ece3.4123. ISSN 2045-7758. PMC 6010712. PMID 29938098.
- Lyons, Crystal. “This Cute Panda-Ant Is Actually A ‘Cow Killer’ Wasp.” Bored Panda, 2016
- Torrico-Bazoberry, Daniel & Muñoz, Matías. (2019). High-frequency components in the distress stridulation of Chilean endemic velvet ants (Hymenoptera: Mutillidae). Revista Chilena de Entomología. 45. 5-13.
|This Vespoidea-related article is a stub. You can help Wikipedia by expanding it.|