Velvet ants are not true ants. True ants are social insects, while velvet ants are a group of solitary wasps. Female velvet ants are wingless throughout their lives; males are winged. There are many species and several genera of velvet ants in Missouri; they look like large, furry ants and are usually brightly colored, often in shades of red and orange, with blackish legs. Males look more like “normal” wasps. Velvet ants usually run on the ground quite rapidly.
Don’t try to handle them: Velvet ants are not aggressive, but they will sting if held or if stepped on with bare feet. The stinger is extraordinarily long, and the sting is excruciating, hence the popular name “cow killer.” (A 1996 study showed that, oddly enough, their venom is comparatively less toxic than that of, say harvester ants and honeybees.)