Summary: Bullet ants are known for their nasty stings. The pain of their stingers is 30 times worse than a bee or wasp sting. Certainly enough to take your breath away.
Curious about the bullet ant and why its name sounds so dangerous? It is said that getting stung by one of these little guys is like getting shot by a bullet. The bullet ant is distinguished from other ants by its harsh sting and large size. It is the largest type of ant in the world. It can grow up to an inch in length and is typically either red or brown in color. The bullet ant likes to nest at the bases of trees. It is also known as the 24-hour ant because the pain from the sting is said to last 24 hours.
This scary critter derives its name from its sting, which has been proven to be
the most painful sting out of all the invertebrates in the world. Imagine getting stung by a big, ugly wasp and think of the pain it brings. Now imagine a sting 30 times more painful. This is the equivalent of the bullet ant's sting. In fact, the Schmidt Sting Index describes it as similar to “fire-walking over charcoal with a 3-inch rusty nail in your heel.” I definitely would not want to be around this insect when it gets mad.
Some tribes in the Amazon have an interesting ritual for the males of their societies. Adolescent boys go through a rite of passage into adulthood that involves bullet ants. They are stung by hundreds of these painful insects in order to prove their manhood. A young man must stick his hands into gloves that contain a couple hundred bullet ants. He must keep his hands in the gloves for at least ten minutes.
You may be wondering who would willingly handle the bullet ants to place them into the gloves, considering they are more painful than root canal. The ants are found among trees, and great care is used when picking them up. The tribe's medicine man drugs the ants to temporarily allow them to doze off. While they are dazed, he places them into the gloves, ensuring that the stingers are facing the inside layers of the gloves. The medicine man also helps the initiates by dancing with them during the ritual as a distraction to their pain.
During the ten minute ritual, a young man feels sharp pricking from the stingers, but nothing too painful. However, the aftereffects of the stings are far worse. The venom shoots quickly through the blood of the body and into the muscles. The muscles become extremely weak, the entire body shakes, the lips swell and the eyelids begin to droop. The young man sweats profusely and drools uncontrollably. He will not be aware of his surroundings and may become very confused. These effects can last as long as 3 hours.
After the worst part is over, the pain still does not subside. The young man's hands swell two or three times their normal size and remain swollen for at least another twelve hours. The sharp pains continue to come and go. The effects of the bullet ants will not fully dissipate until 24 hours after being stung. If a young man can handle physical pain induced by bullet ants, it is felt he will certainly be capable of handling anything. Some tribes even require men to commit to this ritual not just once, but 20 times before becoming a tribe warrior. I'd rather go to the marines for my training, thank you.
The toxin the bullet ant gives off from its stinger causes all of these effects. This toxin is called poneratoxin which causes slow, but harsh contractions of muscles. After being stung by a bullet ant, animals have no control over relaxing or contracting their muscles. They can only wait until the venom wears off and for their bodies to return to a normal state.
Tribal peoples of Central America also use bullet ants in their cultures. They can be used as an aid against rheumatism. Bullet ants are used to seal wounds. The ants have strong mandibles, or jaws are placed over an open wound. The ant's mandibles seal the wound tightly, and the saliva of the bullet ant provides an extra layer of protection for the wound.
The good news is that bullet ants do not live in North America. However, you may encounter some when visiting a zoo or when traveling abroad, especially to Central or South America. In the off chance you experience a bullet ant sting, have someone take you to the emergency room immediately. You cannot drive because of the pain that will hit you about ten minutes after being stung. Also, take an antihistamine. Many people are allergic to bullet ant stings and may suffer severe allergic reactions, including anaphylactic shock.
07 Apr 2009, 17:41
Oh my gosh! I couldn't imagine getting stung by one of those monsters. I'm
afraid red wasps and hornet because of how painful their stings are, but
they're stings don't feel quite like getting shot.
07 May 2009, 16:41
Thank you for this valuable information.
15 Jul 2009, 11:15
OMG! i couldnt possibly imagine the pain of these animals. thank you for
this information and africa is the last place to travel to in my mind! and
im definatly not going to visit a zoo! im trying my best to avoid these
animals. they have horrible stings. does it have to be some sort of blood
type? its all so confusing. but they are facinating creatures but i would
sure not like to meet one.
29 Jul 2009, 21:56
I believe we have these ants here in south Texas. I've killed two in my
house and stung once leaning on a juniper tree next to my house. dark brown
an one inch long. And I want to know how to get rid of these things ASAP.
03 Mar 2010, 01:07
in my country we use those ant to catch crickets.we put the ants in the
cricket hole and then close the hole with dirt or soil.after like 1 or 2
mins the cricket got bite and jump up and we catch it.
04 Jul 2010, 17:03
AS FAR AS NOT BEING IN THE US I LIVE IN WI AND SAW A BULLET ANT IN BY
BEDROOM WHAT CAN I DO I MAY IT GO AWAY
Ask the Exterminator
04 Jul 2010, 22:24
You didn't see a bullet ant. Are you confusing it with a large carpenter
14 Sep 2010, 21:26
is it legal to buy a live bullet in the USA
Ask the Exterminator
14 Sep 2010, 23:55
I would say importing a non-native species of such an ant would not be
30 Sep 2010, 19:47
My grandfather was a Peace Corps worker in Nicaragua many years ago. He
had the misfortune to be bitten by these ants during a foray into a remote
area one afternoon. He literally sat down in the middle of a nest of them.
He was incapacitated for days by the bites and grandma feared that he
would die. At the moment he was bitten, grandpa was terrified and didn't
understand what was happening to him. But as he told me later, nothing
before or since has been as painful. He literally cried from the pain; and
my grandpa was no sissy at all.
31 Oct 2010, 19:52
I got bit 3 times in Peru. I was staying in an ecolodge and was walking to
dinner when it felt like a hot needle stabed me in my shoulder. I yanked
off my shirt infront of everyone and started slapping my shoulders. the
guides looked in my shirt and found the bullet ant. i took 3 benadrylls
and couldnt lift my arms the rest of the night. However when I awoke the
next morning I felt so much better. The pain only took 12 hours to ware off
for me and I never cried. It hurt like horribly, but its certainly not the
worst pain in the world. If u are bitten u need to take benadryll as soon
as possible. I took mine within like 2 minutes of being bitten and now I
have a story to tell. I certainly gave my guides a scare considering we
were 3 hours up river from the nearest town!
11 May 2011, 14:10
im a huge ant fan and i have had many ant farms and ants to catch however
the worst ant encounter i have ever faced was when i got my gel and farm
bey mail along with those nasty stinging fire and or red ants im not sure
which 1 it was but boy there stings are painfull but is a bullet ant's
sting worse? btw i heard bullet ants that arn't around the tropical area
and some how around other countrys that dont have a tropical area for them
2 live in labatory because of there stings is this true? and 1 last
question i recently found a queen ant i think its a carpenter queen its
blackish and its pretty big 2 and i saw some larvea around it but i took
some larvea form another carpenter and colony that was living under a few
rocks around my house and i was wondering when they hatch from larvea to
egg or puepa then egg or somthing like that will they hurt her or kill her?
16 Apr 2012, 13:38
I have Lived In Central Florida for over 45 years of my life. I must Say it
is The Most Pain I have Ever experienced in my Whole Life. I just got bit a
Few Minutes ago. I am Soaking my foot in Epsom salt with Warm Water, I can
Tell you I have Never been Shot and If that is what It feels Like I pray
God spares me this. I must say I am going to continue all day long putting
medication on this Horror of a Story the Bull Ant this is What people Call
them in Florida, I must Say I pray to God I never have this happen to me
Ever Ever again. I will work it out drink Plenty of Water and Soak this
pain away as Fast as I can. Next is medication after soaking my foot. Its
horrible world. I must say. Good Luck if you have Something Happen to you
SO Horrible. WOW
12 May 2012, 13:19
I believe that you are mistaken that bullet ants don't live in North
America. We have a ranch in deep South Texas near the Mexican border, and
there are ants that look identical to the pictures I have seen of bullet
ants. Down here they are referred to as death ants, because their victims
think they are going to die.
17 Nov 2012, 11:32
Thanks so much for this valuable info. Fire ants have attacked me several
times while working outside in East Texas! Their stings are, to say the
least, bothersome and painful. I never heard of bullet ants before! Won't
they eventually migrate North? And what's to prevent them from infesting
10 Dec 2012, 22:28
Wow, that would be awful to be bitten by. I am doing a project on ants:
"Which soil could they live in better." So ehh... I don't know which ants
11 Dec 2012, 20:53
I was injected by a bullet ant in very remote Peruvian rainforest 3 years
ago. I dont personally carry anti-histamine so could initially only curse
expletives but had to focus and concentrate as our guide had disappeared
and i was lost with 2 of my daughters. We had to clear our way out of very
spiny forest before stumbling on to a path and meeting a local Ashaninca
woman. After an hour i could no longer hold a machete, the pain would not
allow me to sit down, just dance from foot to foot. There was still a tough
4 hours to our destination village, hospital and doctor were 2 days away, a
precipitous path to descend plus the usual bees and wasps and ants. My leg
muscles were cramping involuntarily and the surface of my skin was rippling
with tiny muscle spasms. Yes, it was just about ok after 24 hours but i can
confirm it hurts indescribably, way ahead of scorpion sting i experienced
in the N Australian outback. Just dont put your hand round a thin tree - my
protaganist was hidden the other side. Try not to get bitten by one!!!!!
01 Apr 2013, 01:51
I've been bitten by an ant in my cheek back when I was in middle school.
The ant dropped off the tree and fell on my face. It bit me when I tried to
get it off. Its might sound like typical ant but it wasn't. AFTER it bit me
I pulled it off but its head remained claimed down to my cheek. I quickly
removed it after I realized the head was still biting me. The pain was
crazy. I could feel it stretching through my cheeks. Still have thought s
about that bite
17 Jul 2013, 04:06
I'm from South Texas and I, too, wonder if we may have bullet ants here.
They look identical to the pictures I've seen, and their stings are utterly
horrific. My cousin got stung twice by the ants, and suffered muscle
spasms, partial paralysis, and hallucinations, to the point that she had to
go to the hospital. (They couldn't do anything to help her, but they
confirmed it wasn't an allergic reaction.)
Ask the Exterminator
19 Jul 2013, 11:10
South Texas has populations of Pachycondyla villosa, a large black ponerine
ant that lives in trees and has a very painful sting. True bullet ants,
Paraponera, are not found outside the tropics and are actually a fair bit
bigger than the Pachycondyla.
10 Nov 2013, 05:10
South Texas does indeed have a version of the bullet ant. It's common name
is "hairy panther ant". They walk the ground solitarily to search for bugs
to sting, kill, and drag back to the nest. BTW, it's really hard to locate
one of their nests, but if you live anywhere near one, you must locate it
and destroy it. These wandering ants have no discretion about what places
they wander, and crawl around the inside of your home. They're brutal.
17 Feb 2014, 10:56
what the heck obviously it stings