As California agriculturists were looking for this nation's first swarm of African "killer bees," which they hoped to eradicate, a 7-year-old Virginia girl was making her own insect discovery: she found a rare red velvet ant, which she sent off to the appreciative Smithsonian Institution in Washington.
Carrie Housman had just made a reading selection at the library in Forest, Va., just west of Lynchburg, and was walking home barefoot when, by her account, a tiny critter on the ground caught her eye. Instead of stomping on it, her first impulse, she went back to the library, got a jar and went out to capture it.
Why the interest? Because a year ago at the library, the Housman family, including Carrie, had seen a display of red velvet ants -- actually a type of wasps -- and the youngster recognized one when seen alive.
The family called the Smithsonian's Insect Zoo only moments before it closed for the day on Monday. The curator said the zoo would love to have it for display. So the Housmans packed the specimen into a moist tissue inside a plastic container and sent it off to Washington, where it arrived safely a day later.
Red velvet ants, so called because they are hairy looking and have a soft texture (and a painful sting), thrive in warmer climates and are relatively rare in this part of the country. The Smithsonian's display contains only five of them. Their life expectancy is only three months.
We'd guess that Carrie, right about now, is asking her folks if she can come to Washington to see her contribution to the Insect Zoo.