Imagine being named after the thing that you are most known for, and it turns out not to be an especially good thing. Well, the bullet ant which is also known as Paraponera clavata gets its name from the intense shot of pain that it delivers which has been likened to a bullet hit. Worse still, the sting is venom-filled and the effects of one of those stings can last for up to 12 – 24 hours.
The bullet ant is considered the world’s most painful insect sting. An entomologist named Dr. Schmidt who created the Schmidt Sting Pain Index where he rates the pain caused by varied insects including ants, wasps, and bees gives a helpful guide that can contextualize the pain caused by a bullet ant. He has been stung thousands of times by different species of insects both accidentally and on purpose and rates the levels of pain thus:
- 4: bullet ant, tarantula hawk wasp
- 3: paper wasp, harvester ant
- 2: yellow jacket wasp, honey bee, bald-faced hornet
- 1.5: bullhorn acacia ant
- 1: sweat bee, fire ant
Of these levels, four is the highest and the good doctor has graphically likened the pain of the bullet ant’s sting to walking across flaming charcoal with a three-inch nail stuck in your foot. He is one in many people who have described the pain from the bullet ant’s sting as pure and intense.
Knowing about the existence of an ant that stings like a bullet is good but knowing some further facts about the species is even better and you can get all these facts below.
1. Where They Are Mostly Found
The Bullet ants are found mostly in the South American rainforest, but they are generally distributed throughout Central and South America. They are found commonly in the wet Neotropic ecozone which therefore makes it possible to encounter them in places like Nicaragua, Honduras and Costa Rica in the north and Colombia, Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Peru and Brazil in the South. Colonies of these species are found in lowland areas where we have elevations that can range from sea level to 750 m (2,460 ft).
Bullet ant colonies which consist of several hundred of these ants are mostly found at the base of trees. The workers among the colony forage in the area above the nest for nectar and small arthropods. They can also infrequently forage on the forest floor. The most common food taken back to the nest by these workers is nectar which is carried between the mandibles.
2. When It Was First Discovered
A Danish zoologist named Johan Christian Fabricius was the first to describe the Paraponera clavata in the year 1775. At the time he named it the Formica clavata but later listed the locality of the type as India which was wrong considering they are found mostly in Central and South America.
The Paraponera clavata got transferred to the genus Ponera in 1804 by a French zoologist named Pierre André Latreille.
3. It Mostly Preys On The Glasswing Butterfly
In the Schmidt Sting Pain Index which was revised in 1990 and contains 78 species, the bullet ant takes the cup for the most painful sting. Its main prey is the Glasswing butterfly – the Greta oto. To combat the bullet ant, the butterfly produces some chemical extracts during its larval stage that are unpalatable to the bullet ant.
4. Its Venom May Lead To Medical Advances
From something so painful, scientists are trying to extract something useful. They have isolated a paralyzing neurotoxic peptide called poneratoxin from the venom of the bullet ant. Poneratoxin is said to affect voltage-dependent sodium ion channels, while also blocking synaptic transmission in the central nervous system. This neurotoxic peptide is being investigated to ascertain if it can hold possible medical applications.
5. It Helps The Satere-Mawe People Determine Who’s Man Enough To Be a Warrior
In Brazil among the Satere-Mawe people, bullet ant stings are used as part of an initiation to become warriors. The ants are rendered unconscious when they are submerged in a natural sedative, they are then woven into gloves made of leaves. After they regain consciousness, the boy who seeks to become a warrior is to put on the gloves and keep them on for five whole minutes. This often leads to the arm of the boy being paralyzed due to the venom as well as uncontrollable shaking that may last days. Despite the pain that these boys must feel, they are expected to go through this process 20 times over several months to finally attain the status of a warrior.