The sting of the Bullet Ant (Paraponera clavata) – the most painful insect venom

February 11th, 2011 | by lucy |

In Costa Rica they call them Hormigas bala – Bullet ants – because of the intense pain of their sting, classified as the most painful in the world (see Schmidt Sting Pain Index).  These large ants, who build colonies at the foot of trees and forage in forest canopies, are not aggressive, but use the sting mainly as a defence.  The venom they inject is not intended to paralyse prey, like the neurotoxins used by snakes for example, but are intended to deter potential predators.

Bullet ants are also found in Brazil, where they are used in initiation rites among indigenous people.  Ants are collected and woven into gloves, stings on the inside.  The ritual involves wearing the gloves for 10 minutes and enduring the subsequent agony.  Steve Backshall, an adventurer-naturalist whose job is to put himself into perilous and extremely uncomfortable situations while being filmed, underwent the initiation rite. “If there’d been a machete to hand, I’d have chopped off my arms to escape the pain,” he wrote later.  You can see his experience here.

There must be a business opportunity in this for the Satere-Mawe people featured in the video, with tourists paying good money to prove themselves, rather like those who flock to Pamplona to run with the bulls.

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