The Bullet Ant, Paraponera clavata, is a species of ant which has earned worldwide infamy for its potent sting.
The Bullet Ant is found in humid rainforests across Central and South America and I had my first encounter with these mighty ants during my time in the Peruvian Amazon Rainforest. I was fully aware of the existence of the Bullet Ant before travelling to Peru, but for some reason had come to believe that such a formidable species would be hard to find; how wrong I was.
It was a daily occurrence that I would reach out to pull myself up using a branch of a tree only to be halted in my tracks as my guide, Ormenio, cried “Cuidado! Cuidado!” (My Spanish is unspeakably terrible but phrases like “watch out” “be careful” or “run” I made an effort to revise.) I would look down and sure enough my hand would be mere seconds from making contact with an enormous Bullet Ant. Be it in Spanish or English, there aren’t enough words to describe the gratitude I felt towards Ormenio and the pain he prevented me from suffering. Each time I thanked him my praise would be met with a modest “De nada”, it’s nothing, but it really, really was.
Once upon a time a foolhardy gentleman named Schmidt decided to take it upon himself to discover the world’s most painful hymenopertan sting, the third largest order of insects which includes bees, wasps, ants and sawflies. There are over 150,000 species included, many of which are known for packing quite a punch. Regrettably for Schmidt there is only one true method for deciding which sting is the worst; get stung by almost all of them. The scale scores from 0 – 4, with 4 being the most pain caused by an insect and Bullet Ant’s, along with Tarantula Hawks and Synoeca wasps, got the highest score.
Schmidt described the pain as ‘Pure, intense, brilliant pain. Like walking over a flaming charcoal with a 3-inch nail embedded in your heel.’
Its venom contains poneratoxin, which affects voltage-dependent sodium ion channels and blocks the synaptic transmission in the central nervous system. This causes intense pain which is said to feel hot and come in waves.
In the Amazon Rainforest the Satere-Mawe people of Brazil practice an initiation ceremony where young men have to prove their worth as a warrior and a man by wearing two large mittens woven with over 100 bullet ants. The ants are collected and sedated using a herbal remedy and stitched into the gloves. As they regain consciousness they become agitated, at which point the brave young men place their hands inside the gloves and the stinging begins.
The boys then dance to try and distract from the pain but even once the gloves are removed the pain continues to increase in intensity, crashing in ever greater waves. The venom temporarily paralyses the hands and arms and they make shake uncontrollably for days. The boys must go through this ordeal around 20 times or more to fully complete the initiation. Not an easy feat by any means…
If you want to see a video of a guy losing it after being bitten and trying his best to dance, click here.
To find out more about the Tarantula Hawk, a close second on the Schmidt pain scale, click here.
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