What is the unusualy painful stinging insect that lives in grass?

This is not an ID request for an observation, but a general question about my experiences with the outdoors, so I think it fits here

Over a period of 1-4 years I was stung in the foot 3 times by something very painful while walking barefoot in my lawn (inconsistently mowed yard at 1500 ft elevation, southern adirondacks, NY state), and as someone whose main taxa of interest are ants, bees, and wasps, I’m surprised that I still have no clue what this was

The first time it left a stinger in me, and there was a lot of clover in the yard with honeybees (Apis mellifera) drinking from it, so I assumed it was a honeybee, but I don’t think there was clover where I stepped, and there was no buzzing under my foot.

The second and third time no venom sac was left in my foot, but one of the times there may have been a tiny splinter as if the stinger tip broke off

The sensation was similar all 3 times, but especially the last 2, as they were in the same part of the foot

The pain of these stings blows Vespula maculifrons (eastern yellowjacket) and Myrmica fracticornis (an obscure ant) out of the water, it was more painful than Polistes fuscatus (dark paper wasp), and the pain lasts a lot longer than this thing that stung my friend https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/177007623

They all happened in the same area of the yard, and I have seen velvet ants there a few times, so maybe one of these did it?

I’m wondering if anyone else has any insight into why this happened in a certain part of my yard and what could do it? I’m not trying to get rid of these, I haven’t been stung in years, I’m just curious what insect is so unusually painful since I’m interested in wasps and similar insects

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I’m no expert, but reading through this I kept thinking “It has to be a velvet ant, right?”. A stinging insect on the ground. Incredibly painful, and long-lasting. Then you described seeing velvet ants in that spot before.

If it is velvet ants, I am surprised you wouldn’t have seen one after it stung you, as they are obviously very brightly-colored. Maybe they disappear in the grass quickly, especially if you’re in intense pain.

It might be worth keeping an eye on the ground while walking barefoot in the future!


I have not been tagged myself, but velvet ants are really, shockingly painful.

Velvet ants do vibrate when stepped on/confined, so you might have felt that if it was one of them.

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it was lush dense grass several inches high, and so painful I just pulled away and didn’t look, so I would not have seen it, it could easily be a velvet ant

I should clarify that the pain did not last unusually long relative to paper wasps or yellowjackets, but it was more than long enough to rule out this spider wasp https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/177007623

Didn’t feel that, but it was just sudden pain and then I pulled away, there was no prolonged contact

The pain of Pepsis stings is reported to be “blinding, fierce, shockingly electric” and to last around 5 minutes. But most species have bright orange wings, so it seems unlikely you wouldn’t have noticed them on three separate occasions.

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I think I’m a bit too far north for pepsis, and these definitely made it hard to walk for at least 20 minutes, and the swelling probably took hours or days to go away completely, so I don’t think it was pepsis

I could have missed a bright colored insect in the grass, but I think pepsis are big enough for me to notice

The best way can describe it is burning feeling with a sharp pain at the center, like if you fall on gravel and peel a flap of skin off, on top of several Polistes fuscatus stings in the same spot (Polistes fuscatus feels to me like inflammation deep in the tissue like under an infected cut, but with a sharp pain in the middle and a little bit of burning)

(somehow I accidentally deleted this and had to retype it, that’s where there is a deleted post above)

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I own the Sting of the Wild and I started going through the chart, and are several species colloquially known as velvet ants.

he describes Mutillidae velvet ants as “Itch, burn, and more itch. a toothpick dipped in both itch powder and hot sauce is stuck in your thigh” which doesn’t seem as painful as you describe.

BUT there is a species in this family he calls out, Dasymutilla gloriosa, as “instantaneous, like the surprise of being stabbed. Is this what shrapnel feels like?” Now, this particular species seems to be a west coast species, but when I pulled that family (Mutillidae) up on inat, there are several species of Dasymutilla that have been reported in New York.

Maybe that’s a contender?


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That does sound like this insect

Dasymutilla stings seem variable depending on the species, Schmidt rates D. thetis as 1 out of 4 on his pain scale, D. gloriosa as 2, and D. klugii as 3, which fits its name as “cow killer”

The only other ground insect that I can think of around me that might have a painful sting is Ponera pennsylvanica