Parponera clavata is known as the “bullet ant” because of the intense pain it inflicts with its stings. It’s a big reddish-black ant of the neotropical forests, and I was stung a single time by one in Costa Rica. It was, perhaps, the most intense pain from an insect I’ve ever felt (a baby squirrel sinking its incisors repeatedly into the ball of my thumb rivals this incident!)
They’re huge ants; here’s one for scale. The ruler is in centimeters (2.54 cm = 1 inch), so this one things is nearly an inch long. Other workers can get up to 1.2 inches long. Believe me, you won’t forget one once you’ve seen it:
Here’s what Wikipedia says about the sting:
The pain caused by this insect’s sting is purported to be greater than that of any other hymenopteran, and is ranked as the most painful according to the Schmidt sting pain index, given a “4+” rating, above the tarantula hawk wasp and, according to some victims, equal to being shot, hence the name of the insect. It is described as causing “waves of burning, throbbing, all-consuming pain that continues unabated for up to 24 hours”. The ant is thought to have evolved its sting to ward off any predators that would normally unearth them. Poneratoxin, a paralyzing neurotoxic peptide isolated from the venom, affects voltage-dependent sodium ion channels and blocks the synaptic transmission in the central nervous system. It is being investigated for possible medical applications.
Wikipedia also reports that tribes in Brazil use them as an initiation rite. Note the part I’ve bolded, and reread it once you’ve seen the videos below:
The Satere-Mawe people of Brazil use intentional bullet ant stings as part of their initiation rites to become a warrior.The ants are first rendered unconscious by submerging them in a natural sedative, and then hundreds of them are woven into a glove made of leaves (which resembles a large oven mitt), stingers facing inward. When the ants regain consciousness, a boy slips the glove onto his hand. The goal of this initiation rite is to keep the glove on for a full 10 minutes. When finished, the boy’s hand and part of his arm are temporarily paralyzed because of the ant venom, and he may shake uncontrollably for days. The only “protection” provided is a coating of charcoal on the hands, supposedly to confuse the ants and inhibit their stinging. To fully complete the initiation, however, the boys must go through the ordeal a total of 20 times over the course of several months or even years.
What is this like? Here’s a foolish documentary filmmaker, Hamish Blake, trying on the ant gloves for an Australian t.v. documentary. He can tolerate them only for a few seconds, and then has eight hours of excruciating pain.
The report by NineMSN from Australia, just filed today, says this:
Hamish Blake wanted to test his pain threshold in front of the TV cameras with an Amazonian bullet ant ritual, but ended up heading for hospital after collapsing from the unrelenting agony.
Blake was attempting the stunt for last night’s season finale of the Nine Network’s Hamish and Andy’s Gap Year South America.
He was taking part in a coming-of-age ritual with the Satere-Mawe Tribe, an indigenous tribe from the Amazon rain forest in Brazil, which involves putting on gloves filled with bullet ants and withstanding the pain produced by their toxic bites.
The bullet ant boasts the number one spot on the Schmidt Sting Pain Index — a scale created by Justin Schmidt that rates the pain caused by different Hymenopteran stings.
Footage, currently trending on reddit, shows Blake unable to keep the gloves on for more than a few seconds as he screams, shakes and sweats from multiple stinging bites.
. . . “Twenty-four hours after the bullet ants (and) I still gave them no thumbs up, even if I could move my thumbs,” Blake wrote.
“On the plus side, no danger of wedding ring slipping off!”
The bullet ant incident brought an end to the painfully hilarious South American gap year for the comedy duo, that has seen Lee take a lion’s share of the stunts.
Here’s Hamish’s hands 24 hours after donning the gloves:
The video below shows a member of the tribe that uses these gloves; in this National Geographic video, a young lad has to wear them for five minutes. Then a gringo puts them for the same time, and has 24 hours of that horrible pain.
What humans won’t do to show their “manliness”!