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What is your reaction when you see a brightly colored insect? Probably “danger, stay away!” And in fact, female Mutillidae, commonly known as velvet ants (but actually wasps, not ants), use their bright colors to deter predators. They also have a nasty sting. Many velvet ant species that live in the same location and environment look a lot like each other. When a predator learns that a particular species is harmful, it typically avoids all species that look similar. North American velvet ants can be placed into eight different color pattern groups. How about in Africa, where there are even more velvet ant species? Do they also mimic each other? We found four color pattern groups for African velvet ants. So it’s interesting that North America has far fewer velvet ant species than Africa, but more color pattern groups. Why? We think some possible reasons include fewer ecoregions and lower predator diversity in Africa.

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