Bullet Ants: The World's Most Painful Sting

Posted by Crystal Long
Close-up of a bullet ant.

Bullet ants are said to have the world's most painful sting. Some say the pain is like getting shot with a bullet!

A word of warning: if you ever see a bullet ant -- RUN!

Paraponera Clavata, or more commonly known as the bullet ant, is a species of ant that's native to parts of Central and South America. Bullet ants, which are also known as Lesser Giant Hunting Ants (terrifying, I know!), Conga Ants, and 24-hour ants, are said to carry one of the two most painful stings from the insect world -- the other one being from the Tarantula Hawk Wasp.

So, just how painful is this insect sting? The answer is EXTREMELY. We're not kidding when we say bullet ant stings are one of the world's most painful stings. People describe the pain from these stingers as comparable to being shot by a bullet, or as famed entomologist Dr. Justin Schmidt puts it,

"Like walking over flaming charcoal with three inches of nails embedded in your heel."

Close-up of a bullet ant.

Ouch! Schmidt is renowned for creating the world-famous Schmidt Sting Pain Index, a four-point system that categorizes pain levels of Hymenoptera: an order of insects that includes wasps, bees, and ants -- BULLET ANTS SCORE A FOUR on the pain scale. (Yes, that's the top pain level!)

Fun fact: from Brazil's amazon basin, the Sateré-Mawé people uses these stinging insects as part of a rite of passage for young men becoming warriors. To complete the initiation rites, the young Sateré-Mawé people of Brazil must put their hands into gloves filled with hundreds of bullet ants and keep them on for 5 minutes. He must wear these "bullet ants gloves" a total of 20 times before he's considered a warrior. (Oh gosh, just thinking of it makes us hurt!)

Why Do Bullet Ants Sting? Where Do They Live?

Although generally non-aggressive, bullet ants will not be shy to sting when provoked. Described as huge waves of blinding, all-consuming, burning pain that comes and goes in crescendos, the intense pain and agony from the bullet ant sting last from 12 to 24 hours... we guess that's good news? That's why, in Venezuela, this frightening bug is called the 24-hour ant.

The immense pain comes from Poneratoxin, a paralyzing neurotoxic peptide that inactivates sodium ion channels in your body, affecting the central nervous system; this venom is considered a neurotoxin.

If you are scared you'll easily fall victim to the sting of these defensive insects, we have some good news! Bullet ants only reside in the wet, tropical rainforests of Central and South America; these stingers are commonly found in Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, and Brazil.

Follow along at our Wide Open Pets Facebook page!

READ MORE: Some People Smell Ants, And The Internet Is Utterly Speechless

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Bullet Ants: The World's Most Painful Sting