The velvet ants of Mt. Diablo: Mutillidae diversity and natural history

Mutillidae are usually referred to as Velvet Ants because of their hairy, ant-like appearance. They are not ants, but actually solitary parasitic wasps that are mostly nocturnal with some females being active in the last couple hours of daylight. Mutillids tend to occur where hosts dig their nests and are often found in open, dry, sunny, sandy areas. According to our Perkins Canyon data (reported at Bowerman talks in 2015), mutillid adult activity peaks in the warmer summer months when they are presumably mating and locating hosts to provision larvae. Though individuals are relatively large (4-8mm), conspicuously colored, and frequently seen, Mutillidae remains poorly studied, especially in our region.

There are currently very few records of Mutillids from Mt. Diablo outside of material recently collected in Perkins Canyon. I am conducting a project to identify the species of Mutillidae more broadly in the Mount Diablo region to provide baseline data for the diversity and phenology of Mt. Diablo’s Velvet Ants. I have chosen three study sites for which to search, in addition to taking advantage of the ongoing Perkins Canyon study. I will continue to compare their abundance and diversity using pitfall, ramp, and UV light traps. Though there is no particular activity included in the study to associate hosts, I will be spending a significant about of time observing mutillids and I hope to record information leading to more details about hosts. Through exposure I should be able to learn more about our California mutillids and be able to compare my observations to those better studied in other parts of the world.