Thistledown Velvet Ant

Thistledown Velvet Ant, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, CaliforniaI was only able to get out to the desert for one night while in Los Angeles for business last week. I was hoping for bighorn sheep in Anza-Borrego State Park so I got up very early for a pre-sunrise hike through Palm Canyon. The hike was spectacular, but the animals were nowhere to be found. I saw a few birds, a couple of antelope squirrels and only a single jackrabbit (usually I see lots of jackrabbits at this location). But I did stumble upon this curious little insect. At first I thought it was just a tiny piece of cotton-y plant blowing around in the sand. Upon closer look, however, I realized that it was a hairy insect. I had no idea what kind, but I mounted my macro lens to my camera and got up nice and close. The insect, which I have now identified as a thistledown velvet ant, was moving very quickly so it was difficult to get proper shots with the narrow depth of field afforded by the macro. I was able to get a few keepers, however, including this extreme close up. These guys (or should I say girls — this is the female) are very small. About the size of the average ant, but apparently, despite the name, they aren’t ants at all, but rather wasps. In fact, they are known to deliver quite a painful sting so I was glad that I never handled it and had my lens blocking my hands. From what I’ve read, the white hairs are a camouflage adaptation to look like creosote bush seeds. Certainly fooled me — for a while at least.
Nikon D500 with Nikkor 105mm macro lens, ISO 800, f/10 at 1/250th of a second

This entry was posted in North America.


  1. Sue May 7, 2017 at 11:42 pm #

    What a remarkable insect, Sean! Thanks for expanding our horizons. I must try to see one of these beauties one day.

  2. michael huber May 8, 2017 at 2:25 am #

    hello sean: here is my new e-mail. ) ( > ) great pic. thanks for all the great work. ( me ) michael huber.

  3. Jennifer Barron May 8, 2017 at 9:51 am #

    fascinating! fun find for you & your followers.

  4. Amanda Davis May 8, 2017 at 10:25 am #

    Wow!!! Absolutely fascinating!!!! Really cool little creature!!! Thank you for sharing!

  5. Donna Zentek May 8, 2017 at 10:36 am #

    Glad the animals were elusive that day or you may not had seen the ant/ wasp thistle creature. So cool.

  6. Peter Butterfield May 8, 2017 at 10:39 am #

    —– If a guy I’ll fly
    —– If a lady shanks mare for me
    —– Stlng in my disguise.

  7. Angelina May 8, 2017 at 10:58 am #

    Ugh. Goose bumps!

  8. Laura Mann May 8, 2017 at 12:27 pm #

    Wow! A world class photographer, AND a veritable Sherlock Holmes with keen observation and sleuthing skills! Well done!

  9. Susan Rubeo May 8, 2017 at 5:43 pm #

    You remind me of a young boy always curious about what you find
    Look but don’t touch good rule to follow out on wilderness but get that picture anyway
    You can & bring it to your followers
    Always makes us look forward to your next venture Sean

    Aunt Sue