Creatures of the Amazon
Bullet Ants

By Mike Collis

Paraponera clavata

Ranging from Central America south to Paraguay the Bullet Ant is very widespread in fact it is said that there are 4 Bullet Ant nests to every hectare of rainforest. Unlike other ants there are normally only a few hundred occupants to each nest. Nests are usually located at the bases of trees. The worker ants forage all the time in the trees and even up to the canopy, seldom do they forage on the forest floor. Nectar is the most common food taken back to the nest. It is carried between the worker's mandibles. Sometimes, insects, fruits and sometimes small animals are collected and taken back to the nest to be consumed.

The sting of the Bullet ant is said to be the most painful of any sting and is compared to being hit by a bullet. The Bullet Ants live in humid lowland jungle. In the Amazon the Bullet Ant is known as "Hormiga Veinticuatro" the 24 Hour Ant, because it's sting can last up to 24 hours. After being stung it was described as an immense pain, with "waves of burning". This pain can last up to 24 hours. Scientists are currently working on the venom to see if it can be used in medical applications.

The queen Bullet Ant is a lot bigger than the workers who are usually about 20 to 30 mm in length. The workers are very strong, like a wingless wasp, reddish black in colour and they are very predaceous.

A little known tribe of indigenous Indians use the ants in initiation ceremonies. The Satere-Mawe people from Brazil first dull the senses of a large number of Bullet Ants by dipping them in a type of jungle sedative, possibly curare. The ceremony is to initiate a young man and bring him into the adult world as a warrior. Then hundreds of the ants are put into a glove made out of leaves with their stingers facing inwards. Soon afterwards the youth puts his hand into the glove and must keep it on for at least 10 minutes. The pain is excruciating and the hand becomes paralyzed. After this the youth will shake for days. This ceremony is repeated up to 20 times over the next year before the boy is initiated. A few months ago a friend of mine Katoo from Brazil attempted this ceremony and ended up in hospital in a critical condition.
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