Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Committee Chair(s)

James P. Pitts


James P. Pitts


David B. Wahl


Carol von Dohlen


Joseph S. Wilson


Luis F. Gordillo


Insects are a ubiquitous and species-rich component of the biologically-diverse planet we inhabit. The majority of insects are understudied, with many species awaiting formal description and their natural history yet to be discovered. Members of the family Mutillidae, commonly known as velvet ants, are one of these little-known insect groups. Velvet ants are technically wasps, and the wingless females superficially resemble true ants of the family Formicidae. Further, they frequently have a ‘velvety’ appearance and are often brightly colored to serve as a warning to would-be predators that they have the ability to inflict a painful sting. These insects are solitary parasitoids and their young primarily feed on the immature stages of solitary bees and apoid wasps. There are currently 4,603 described species of Mutillidae and many await formal description. In order to organize the overwhelming amount of biological knowledge presently known and to accommodate for future discoveries, species are classified into a hierarchical system that was first proposed by Carl Linnaeus in 1758. Biological classifications allow us to organize, understand, and convey information about groups of species at various ranks. Further, phylogenetic analyses allow us to understand how species are related to one another and they can inform us on how to classify life on Earth. Genomic-level molecular data are becoming increasingly more accessible and have become the primary source of information for inferring phylogenetic relationships between species. To better understand the internal classification of Mutillidae, I performed several phylogenetic analyses using molecular data. I also investigated the mating strategies known for Mutillidae and reported on a new mating strategy record for Sphaeropthalma pensylvanica (Lepeletier). Additionally, I performed a phylogenetic analysis for the species-rich, cosmopolitan mutillid tribe Trogaspidiini in order to discern how its members are related to one another and to determine their biogeographic history. Lastly, I revised the rare genus Invreiella Suárez and increased the known diversity from three to fourteen species. My dissertation research sheds light on a number of understudied aspects of velvet ants and the results will aid other researchers studying these remarkable insects.



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