Bullet Ant: World’s Most Painful Insect

The Bullet Ant (Paraponera clavata) is a species of ant native to parts of Central and South America. Bullet ants, also known as giant hunting ants and conga ants, are known for their aggressive defensive behavior and extremely painful sting. Bullet ants are commonly found in wet rainforests in Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and parts of northern South America, including Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia.

Bullet Ant Morphology

Bullet ants commonly fall between 18-30mm long and have the appearance of wingless wasps. Unlike many species of ant, there is no significant polymorphism between bullet ants in different castes: i.e. worker ants have more-or-less the same morphology as the queen ant. Like all ants, they have a tri-segmented body consisting of a head, thorax, and abdomen. Both male and female bullet ants have a large pair of mandibles and long antennae that they use to probe the environment and look for food. Bullet ants are also distinguished from other species of ant by their hairy thoraxes.

Bullet Ant Diet/Behavior

Bullet ants subsist primarily on a diet of nectar and plant material. They also are known to eat other species of arthropods. Nests are normally located at the base of trees and contain several hundred individuals. Bullet ants are mostly diurnal and spend the day foraging for food for the colony. Bullet ants favor tall trees because they give good access to the forest canopy where they can gather nectar and leaves. 

bullet ant

Although generally non-aggressive, bullet ants can be very aggressive when they feel threatened. Bullet ants are a major predator of the glass wing butterfly (Greta oto) and they are commonly parasitized by phorid fly larva (Apocephalus paraponerae). (see the species of Glasswing Butterfly we offer for sale) Phorid flies lay their eggs on injured worker ants. A single worker ant can contain up to 20 fly larvae.

Bullet Ant Sting: Most Painful Insect Sting

The bullet ant is known for its extremely painful sting that has been compared to the pain from being shot. The bullet ant is currently the highest on the Schmidt sting pain index with a rating of 4.0+. Bullet ant stings have been described as causing a burning, throbbing, and all-consuming pain that can last for an entire day. Local names of the bullet ant refer to its extremely painful sting. For instance, in Venezuela, bullet ants are known as hormiga veinticuatro which means the “24-hour ant” in reference to the full day of pain that follows a sting. Bullet ant stingers contain a potent neurotoxin that can cause swelling, tachycardia (elevated heartbeat), bloody stool, and, in extreme cases, paralysis and death. bullet ant video is a video of wildlife enthusiast Coyote Peterson being stung by a bullet ant just to see how painful it is.

The Sateré-Mawé people of Brazil are known for using the bullet ant for their initiation rites. Young men who are being initiated as warriors must wear a woven pair of gloves that contain several bullet ants with their stinger facing inward. Initiates must keep the gloves on for 5 minutes. To successfully complete the initiation rites, young men must go through the procedure up to 20 times over several months or years.

bullet ant initiation