Bullet ants and pain

If you have heard of ants then I am pretty sure you have heard of bullet ants. If not then oh boy you are in for a treat. So sit back, relax and get ready for my first post of 2021!

A bullet ant, Paraponera clavata, and its range (insects.factsdiet.com).

Bullet ants, Paraponera clavata, are a large species of ant found throughout Central and South America. They form small colonies of up to 2,000 individuals and have the most painful sting of any insect known to mankind. So you know, they are pretty intense. This is where they get their name. It isn’t their speed or appearance, its the fact that their sting is reportedly as painful as being shot! Ouch! They are also known as the ’24 hour ant’ as this is how long the pain lasts for. Ouch again! Let’s try to put this sting into perspective.

The Schmidt pain index is widely regarded as THE index for insect stings. The pain ratings go from 1-4. 1 would be a sweat bee. Schmidt described this pain as “Light, ephemeral, almost fruity. A tiny spark has singed a single hair on your arm.” Almost sounds nice really. 2 would be a Yellow jacket with a sting “Hot and smoky, almost irreverent. Imagine WC Fields extinguishing a cigar on your tongue.” That doesn’t sound pleasant and we are only half way there and are, indeed, living on a prayer for this poor man who went through all of this for science! A 3 on the list would include Pogonomyrmex badius which is a harvester ant with a sting that was described as “Bold and unrelenting. Somebody is using a drill to excavate your ingrown toenail.” Nope. No thank you. And finally we reach the Bullet ant which, on a scale that goes from 1-4, scores a 4+! The sting is ” Pure, intense, brilliant pain. Like walking over flaming charcoal with a 3-inch nail in your heel.” I don’t know and don’t want to know how he knows how that feels but that get the ‘Alex Nope of approval!’ I have put together a handy scale below to help you understand what these all mean:

Left to right: Sweat bee (eartheim.com), Yellow jacket (uofacesmg.wordpress.com), Harvester ant, (commons.wikimedia.org) and a Bullet ant (ajauntwithjoy.com).

Bullet ants are even used as initiation rites! To become a warrior a boy of the Sateré-Mawé people of Brazil will put on a pair of gloves with 80 bullet ants woven into them with the stingers facing in. To become a warrior, the boy must wear the gloves for up to 10 minutes! The hands and arms become paralysed. Oh, and they do this 20 times over months-years. Yeah. Not fun.

The Excruciating Bullet Ant Glove Test Of The Mawé People ...
A glove containing Bullet ants (allthatsinteresting.com)

When you are the undisputed queens of pain you have nothing to prove to nobody. Bullet ants are, luckily, very calm and docile and only sting if really necessary. They eat other arthropods and nectar. As long as you don’t annoy them, you can even handle them! Takes some courage but it is doable!

This has been a brief overview of the Bullet ant, Paraponera clavata. I hope you enjoyed and I hope you are ready for the return of Semi-regular ant content. To be alerted of when new posts go up please join my Facebook page where I regularly chat with you all!

I apologise for my absence in the past few months. I took some time off to finish my Master’s degree, for my winter holidays and to work full time which has reduced the amount of time I have had to work on this blog. But I am back and will be posting as often as I can. I would especially like to thank my patrons on Patreon for sticking with me. Thanks,



Bosmia, A.N., Griessenauer, C.J., Haddad, V. and Tubbs, R.S., 2015. Ritualistic envenomation by bullet ants among the Sateré-Mawé Indians in the Brazilian Amazon. Wilderness & environmental medicine26(2), pp.271-273.

Breed, M. & Harrison, J.F. (1988). Worker size, ovary development and division of labor in the giant tropical ant, Paraponera clavata (Hymenoptera: Formicidae). Journal of the Kansas Entomological Society 61: 285-290.

Schmidt, Justin O.; Blum, Murray S.; Overal, William L. (1983). “Hemolytic activities of stinging insect venoms”. Archives of Insect Biochemistry and Physiology1 (2): 155–160. doi:10.1002/arch.940010205.

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