Ants, bees and wasps form the advanced insect order Hymenoptera or the membrane-winged. Many species are social animals with complex self-organised societies of specialised sub-divisions that serve a titular queen-mother. Another defining traits of the order is the fusion of the first segment of the abdomen with the thorax. It's not obvious in the rotund dimensions of many bees, but in wasps and ants, the second and third abdominal segments are typically constricted to form a dainty 'waist' that is the envy of many. Winged wasps have conquered the arboreal realm, becoming top arthropodal predators that inspire fear in fellow bugs and fine-skinned men.
The earliest ants from the Mesozoic Era, preserved in amber, were wasp-like but already demonstrated the colonial caste-structure of foraging workers, males and queens. Ants and wasps have diverged sufficiently to occupy ecological niches amenable to their tribes, but at times, the affinity shows up, as in the case of the velvet ants, a family of wasps (Mutillidae) in which the females are wingless and have developed stubby bodies amenable to ploughing through litter, sand or soil. The males are winged, with slimmer bodies. The females' diminutive stature and stealthy approach probably aid their entry into the nests of bees and other wasps. In cells housing eggs or larvae, the female velvet ants lay eggs. The hatched grubs consume the host larva, pupate and flee to found a new generation. Named for the fine layer of hairs that envelop their body, velvet ants are no plush toys. Their exoskeleton is hardened against possible stinging assaults, while their own ovipositor is reputed to cause pain that kills cows. At the motel in Kuala Tahan, I foolishly let this lady (probably Mickelidia pulchrinella) wander onto my palm while trying to persuade her to pose for a hasty photoshoot. She demurred at my attempts to coax a brief pause but thankfully my duck exuded enough charm to ward off any notions of a nasty needle by my nail.