Jack jumper ant
|Jack jumper ant|
|Jack jumper worker|
F. Smith, 1858
|The jack jumper ant is endemic to most of Australia, including Tasmania.|
The jack jumper ant (Myrmecia pilosula), commonly known as the hopper ant, jumper ant or jumping jack, is a species of venomous ant that is native to Australia. It is most numerous in Tasmania, and southeast Australia. It is a member of the Myrmecia genus, which are giant bull ants. Frederick Smith first described the species in 1858. The queen has a similar appearance to a worker, while a male is easily noticeable, notably because of their smaller mandibles. They are a large ants, with workers and males being around the same size (12 to 14 millimetres (0.47 to 0.55 in) for workers and 11 to 12 millimetres (0.43 to 0.47 in) for males. The queen is the larger at 14 to 16 millimetres (0.55 to 0.63 in) in length.
Mainly active during the day, jack jumpers live in nests surrounded by fine gravel and sandy soil which can be found from woodland areas to urban areas. Jack jumpers prey on small insects which they bring back to their colony, and kill using their sting which injects venom. Other ants and predatory invertebrates prey on the jack jumper ant. The average life expectancy of a jack jumper worker is over one year. They possess the gamergates gene which workers are able to reproduce with drones, either with or without the queen present in the colony. They are known to have a single pair of chromosomes.
The jack jumper ant sting generally causes a mild local reaction; however, along with other ants in the Myrmecia genus is one of the very few ant species that can be dangerous to humans. The ant venom is particularly immunogenic for an insect venom. The venom causes about 90% of Australian ant allergies and in endemic areas up to about 3% of the population are allergic to it. About half of the allergic people can suffer anaphylactic reactions (increase of heart rate, falling blood pressure and many other symptoms) that can on rare occasions lead to death. From 1980 to 2000, there have been four deaths due to anaphylaxis to jack jumpers stings, all of which were in Tasmania, but total deaths could be as high as six. Allergen immunotherapy (desensitisation) can be given to people who are prone to severe allergic reactions to jack jumper stings.
- 1 Taxonomy
- 2 Description
- 3 Distribution and habitat
- 4 Behaviour and ecology
- 5 Interaction with humans
- 6 See also
- 7 References
- 8 Further reading
- 9 External links
|External identifiers for Jack jumper ant|
|Encyclopedia of Life||484351|
Ants of the genus Myrmecia are known as "bulldog ants". The jack jumper ant was described by British entomologist Frederick Smith in 1858, in his Catalogue of hymenopterous insects in the collection of the British Museum part VI, under the binomial name Myrmecia pilosula. There, Smith described the specimens of a worker, queen and male jack jumper. Other names for the jack jumper include hopper ant, The type specimen is located in the British Museum.
One synonym for the species have been published – Ponera ruginoda, also described by Frederick Smith. Ponera ruginoda was described as a separate species of ant by Frederick Smith in the 1950s, but was later found to be a junior synonym of the jack jumper ant, after specimens of each were compared. Among ants with occiptal carinae, the species was shown to be a monophyletic grouping, while other such Myrmecia ants were found to form a paraphyletic and basal assemblage It has been shown that the jack jumper ant are not actually a single species, but instead show a range of chromosomes (mentioned previously) which suggests that the ant has sibling species, known as the Myrmecia pilosula species complex.
Their characteristic jumping motion when agitated or foraging, giving them their name, and it also shares this behaviour with other Myrmecia ants, such as the Myrmecia nigrocincta. The common name "jack jumper" is the most common name for the ant, jumper ant, jumping jack and black jumper. These common names are in relation to its jumping behaviour. The jack jumper is a member of the genus Myrmecia, apart of the subfamily Myrmeciinae. Most ancestors to the jack jumper ant and Myrmecia as a whole are only found in fossils, with the exception of Nothomyrmecia macrops, which is the only known living relative.
Relatives of the jack jumper ant, contain powerful stings and large mandibles, a feature the jack jumper ant contains. Jack jumper ants can be black or blackish-red in colour, and they may have yellow or orange legs. The ant's antennae, tibiae and tarsi and mandibles are also yellow or orange. Pubescence (hair) on the jack jumper is greyish, short and erect, and is longer and more abundant on their gaster and rather long on their mandibles, none on their antennae, and pubescence is very short and suberect on their legs. The pubescence on the male is grey and very long, and abundant throughout the ants body, but it begins to shorten on the legs. The pubescence is white and yellowish on the gaster on the male.
The queen is a very similar in appearance to the workers, but its sculpture (body) is more irregular and coarser. Males are notable for having much smaller triangular mandibles than workers and queens. The mandibles on the male also contain a large tooth at the centre between the apex and the base of the inner border. Punctures (tiny dots) are noticeable on the head, which the dots are large and shallow, and the thorax and node are also irregularly punctuated.
Worker jack jumper ants range from 12 to 14 millimetres (0.47 to 0.55 in) long, with the queen larger at 14 to 16 millimetres (0.55 to 0.63 in) in length, while males are usually the same size as a worker at 11 to 12 millimetres (0.43 to 0.47 in). The jack jumper is medium sized in comparison to other Myrmecia bull ant species.
Distribution and habitat
The jack jumper ant is abundant in most of Australia. They can be found as far from Western Australia, where they have been recorded in Albany, Mundaring, Denmark and Esperance, where they have been recorded at sand hills around the area. The jack jumper is rarely observed or seen in the northern regions of the state of Western Australia. Their presence has also been sighted in South Australia, including in Mount Lofty, Normanville, Aldgate and Kangaroo Island, where there are dense populations at the western end of the island. They are widespread in Victoria, New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory. They are present in the Bunya Mountains, Fletcher, Stanthorpe, Tamborine Mountain and Millmerran in Queensland, and their range has been recorded north to Rockhampton. The jack jumper ant is also found in Tasmania.
The jack jumper ant occurs in open habitats, which include pastures, gardens and lawns and prefer fine gravel and sandy soil. They can be spotted around light bush. Their preferred natural habitat is woodland, open forests or urban areas. Populations of the jack jumper ant are usually very dense in higher mountain regions. Their nests are built upon a mound in fine gravel or soil, and nests may also be found underneath rocks. Their nests may be inconspicuously hidden under a rock, or may be formed from a 20 to 60 cm diameter mound of finely granular gravel. Their range in southern Australia (like other ant species in the regions) appears to be that of relict clinging to separated favorable, usually or sometimes moist, areas with broad stretches of arid land intervening. Based off specimen collection records, jack jumpers have been found in dry sclerophyll forests, at elevations ranging from 121 – 1432 meters (396 - 4,698 ft), usually around 1,001 meters average (3,284 ft).
In Tasmania, jack jumper ants are mostly distributed in dry eucalypt open woodlands, where warm, dry and open environments provide the ant isolation and give warmth and food resources like nectar and invertebrate prey. They are known to utilise the warmth of rocks and dry soil, and they decorate their nests with seeds, soil, charcoal, stones, sticks, and even small invertebrate corpses. In suburbs, they are associated with native vegetation while using cracks in concrete walls, rockeries, dry dirt and dry grass areas to build nests. It was found that suburbs with large vegetation such as Mount Nelson, Fern Tree and West Hobart had jack jumper populations, while places like North Hobart and Battery Point, suburbs which are heavily built up, do not have jack jumper populations.
Behaviour and ecology
Jack jumpers are mainly diurnal, and will search for food during the day. They hibernate when temperatures in their habitats are low. Jack jumper ants are highly territorial; fights among jack jumper ants from different, and even the same, colonies are not uncommon. They are known to be highly aggressive towards intruders. The jack jumper ant has been observed on the inflorescences of Prasophyllum alpinum (mostly pollinated by wasps of the subfamily Ichneumonidae). Although pollinia was often seen in the jaws of jack jumper ants, their cleaning habits of their mandibles while being on the vegetative parts of the plant, before moving on to other nectar-rich plants prevented pollen exchange, but indicates that the jack jumper pollinates.
As with many species of bull ants, jack jumper ants are usually solitary when they forage, though they live in colonies like most ants, and only workers forage. Jack jumper ants are omnivores and scavengers. They sting their victims with venom that is similar to stings of wasps, bees, and fire ants, which are very painful to humans. Unlike the bee however, the jack jumper ant is able to sting its victim multiple times, rather than only stinging once then dying afterwards. Jack jumper ants are good hunters; even wasps and bees are hunted and devoured. These ants have excellent vision, which aids them in hunting. Additional food items include other ants, such as carpenter ants (Camponotus), sweet secretions from plants, sap-sucking insects and other sugar solutions. Jack jumpers also hunt for other small insects and spiders. They also hunt actively for small arthropods to feed their larvae, and will sometimes even follow them for a short distance. Jack jumper ants alongside M. simillima have been given stored frozen houseflies (Musca domestica) and blowflies (Calliphoridae) as food under testing conditions. Observations of the jack jumper suggest that it would run and leap energetically at flies whenever they landed, particularly on Acacia shrubs, plants or trees.
Predators and parasites
Predators of the jack jumper (and the Myrmecia genus as a whole) include other ants, spiders, lizards, birds and mammals. Predatory invertebrates such as the assassin bug and redback spider prey on jack jumpers and other Myrmecia ants, and echidnas, particularly the Short-beaked echidna (Tachyglossus Aculeatus) have been known to hunt them, and eat their larvae and eggs. The jack jumper ant is the host to parasites. The gregarines (Gregarinasina) is known to be a parasite to the jack jumper. The effects of the parasite includes the change of colour from their typical black appearance to a brown colour, as revealed when brown jack jumpers were dissected, and were shown to have spores of the parasite, while black jack jumpers showed no spores. If it is present in large numbers, the parasite interferes with the normal darkening of the cuticle while the ant is in its pupal stage. The cuticle is known to soften up due to the gregarine parasite.
Based on 6 jack jumper worker ants, the average life expectancy of the jack jumper is around 1.3 years, but workers were shown to live as little as 1.12 years or as long as 1.6, with the queen living a lot longer than the workers. This gives an estimation that they live for 401 – 584 days, but on average 474 days. George C. Wheeler and Jeanette Wheeler (1971) described very young larvae of the jack jumper as 2.4mm in length, with two types of body hair, young larvae (matured from very young larvae) at 2.7mm in length but with similarities with mature larvae, at 12.5mm in length.
Queens will mate with 1-9 males during nuptial flight, and the effective number of mates per queen was ranged at 1.0 to 11.4. Relative frequency of number of matings per queen and effective number of mating declines if there are more male mates for the queen. Jack jumper colonies are polygyne, meaning they have multiple queens in one colony. When the queen establishes a nest after mating, she will go hunt for her food to feed her young, meaning that the queen is semi-claustral. Nest sizes can be as small as 500 or have as many as 1,000 individuals, making them "large" in size, or with another estimate at 553 to 862 adults. Using the measuring method of alloenzymes, it was found that some colonies are polygynous and polyandrous. In a study on jack jumper colony genetic structure, colony queen numbers numbered between 1 and 4 queens, and 11 of the 14 colonies tested were polygynous (78.57%), indicating that it's pretty common in jack jumper colonies. The jack jumper ant possesses the gamergates gene, which workers are able to reproduce in both queenless and queenright (colonies with a queen) colonies. In multiple-queen colonies, the egg-laying queens, on average, are not related to one another.
The jack jumper ant genome is contained on a single pair of chromosomes (males have just one chromosome as they are haploid), the lowest number known (or even possible) for any animal. A study found that jack jumper ants have chromosome numbers of 2n = 2, 9, 10, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 30, 31 and 32. Taxanomically discussed as a single biological species, It has also indicated that the chromosome numbers range differently in accordance to elevations they are present in. In the jack jumper ant, chromosome rearrangement was used to explain the origin of a long metacentric chromosome through the fusion of the subtelocentric and an acrocentric chromosome. A study found that the jack jumper had 9 polymorphic loci, which yielded a total of 67 alleles', that ranged from three to 12 with an average of 7.44 per locus, and the observed heterozygosities ranged from 0.5625 to 0.9375, and from 0.4863 to 08711, respectively.
Below is a table showing chromosome numbers from different jack jumper ant colonies, or other ants of the Myrmecia pilosula species complex:
|Location||Coordinates||Altitude (metres)||Chromosome number (n), 2n||No. of colonies observed||No. of individuals observed||Total cell number observed|
|Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve||820||(1), 2||1||55 male, 34 workers||>1000|
|HMAS Albatross||120||(5)||1||4 male||28|
|Nerriga||730||21, 22, 23||3||14 male||59|
|Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve||820||22, 23, 24||5||14 male||56|
|Black Mountain||620||18, 19||2||14 male||68|
|Wentworth Falls||870||(9, 10), 18, 19, 21||4||5 male, 14 workers||41, 93|
|Lawson||670||(10,11), 20, 21, 22, 24||6||12 male, 14 workers||68, 63|
|Mount Victoria||980||(10, 11, 13, 15), 24, 25, 26, 27||4||5 male, 11 workers||35, 71|
|Piccadilly Circus||1200||(16), 30, 31, 32||6||1 male, 16 workers||3, 50|
Interaction with humans
The extent of the jack jumper sting problem differs between areas, allergy prevalence rates are significantly low in highly urbanised areas compared to rural areas where it is known that allergic reactions and incidents with jack jumpers are much higher, and many people stung in such areas may experience severe reactions, but overall they represent a large hazard to the southern states of Australia because of the large proportion of the population being vulnerable to the sting. In urban areas, 17-30% of anaphylaxis cases were due to stings, but in rural areas this is around 60%. The jack jumper ant is responsible for the majority of anaphylaxis cases in Australia, and rates of anaphylaxis are twice that for honeybee stings.
The jack jumper ant is notorious in Tasmania, where more people are prone to allergic reactions to the jack jumpers sting. The jack jumper ant has been a major cause of anaphylaxis outside Tasmania, notably around Adelaide and also around the outskirts of Melbourne, while more distributed cases in New South Wales and Western Australia have been recorded. One in 50 adults have been reported to suffer anaphylaxis due to the jack jumper or other Myrmecia ants, while deaths from anaphylaxis in general is one per three million people every year. The jack jumper ant has been responsible for more than 90% of Australian ant venom allergies.
The jack jumper ant and all of its relatives in the genus Myrmecia are among the most dangerous ant genera, as they are very aggressive and have earned themselves fearsome reputations. Guinness World Records even listed Myrmecia pyriformis as the world's most dangerous ant. The ant has been compared to other ants like Pachycondyla sennaarensis, Pachycondyla chinensis and the red imported fire ant (Solenopsis invicta). Jack jumper venom has been shown to contain histamines, haemolytic and eicosanoid elements in the ants venom, and their venom also has a range of active ingredients and enzymatic activity which includes phospholipase A2 and B, hyaluronidase and acid and alkaline phosphatase. The venom of the ant also contains two peptides; one being pilosulin 1, which causes cyotoxic effects, and pilosulin 2, which has antihypertensive properties, and the peptides also are found to have molecular weights. The peptide Pilosulin 1 in jack jumper venom inhibited the incorporation of methyl-3H thymidine, into rapidly reproducing Epstein–Barr transformed B-cells. The LD50 was lower in concentration than melittin, a peptide that is found in bee venom. Foraging queens collected from Hobart contain a sting bulb gland, but an incomplete section series has not allowed to show its development in the worker ants.
Loss of cell viability in the jack jumper's venom was done by cytometry, which measured proportions of cells fluoresced within the presence of fluorescent dye and 7-Aminoactinomycin D. Examinations on the rapidly reproducing Epstein–Barr B-cells showed that the cells lose viability within minutes when it is exposed to peptide pilosulin 1. It was also shown that normal white blood cells alter easily when they too are exposed to pilosulin 1. However, partial peptides of pilosulin 1 were less efficient in causing losses of cell viability, and it is also suggested that the residue, 22 N-terminal are critical to cytotoxic activity of pilosulin 1 within the venom of the jack jumper ant.
20 percent of jack jumper ants have an empty venom sac, so a negative sting reaction from a jack jumper ant, especially after an allergic reaction, should not be interpreted as loss of sensitivity, despite the severity of allergic reactions tend to fluctuate when it comes to an insect sting. Substantial amounts of ant venom have been analysed to characterise venom components, and the jack jumper has been one of the main subjects in this. A study conducted by the East Carolina University, which focused and summarised the knowledge about ant stings and their venom, showed that only the fire ant and jack jumper ant mainly had their allergenic components of their venom extensively investigated. These allergenic components include peptides that are found as heterodimers, homodimers and pilosulin 3.
Signs and symptoms
The symptoms of the stings of the ants are similar to stings of the fire ants. The reaction is local swelling and reddening, and fever, followed by formation of a blister. The sting from the jack jumper, just like a bee and wasp sting, are the most common causes of anaphylaxis from insect stings. The most common reaction after a sting is sharp pain similar to an electric shock. Patients have also developed a systemic allergic skin reaction when stung by a jack jumper. The heart rate increases, and blood pressure falls rapidly. A severe allergic reaction can cause symptoms such as difficulty breathing, swelling of the tongue and throat, coughing, chest tightness, abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting, loss of consciousness or collapse, and may, in children, symptoms like paleness and floppiness.
In individuals allergic to the venom (about 2%-3% of cases), a sting sometimes causes anaphylactic shock. Although the median time from sting to cardiac arrest is 15 minutes, the maximum period was around three hours. The jack jumper ant allergy does not disappear quickly, as it has shown in studies that people with jack jumper allergies will most likely suffer from another allergic reaction if re-stung. Approximately 70% of patients with a history of a systemic reaction to the ant's sting, had a further such reaction to the sting. About half of these reactions were life-threatening to the person stung and occurred predominantly to people who have had previous encounters with the ant sting. Anaphylaxis in jack jumper ant stings is not rare, and 2.9% of 600 residents from semi-rural Victoria in an allergic reactions to the ants sting, according to a questionnaire. The sensitivity to stings appear persistent for many years, and comparative figures for the honey bee and european wasp to jack jumper ant allergies show 50% and 25%.
In 2011, an Australian ant allergy venom study was conducted, with the objective to determine what native Australian ants were associated with ant sting anaphylaxis, and it showed that the jack jumper ant was responsible for the majority of patients showing a reaction to Myrmecia ant stings. Of the 265 patients who reacted to a sting from an ant belonging to the Myrmecia genus, 176 were from the jack jumper. 15 reacted to M. nigrocincta and three to M. ludlowi, and 56 others reacted to other Myrmecia ants. The study concluded that four native species of Australian ants caused anaphylaxis. Besides Myrmecia species, the green-head ant (Rhytidoponera metallica) also caused anaphylaxis.
Dr. Paul Clark first drew medical attention to the jack jumper ant in 1986, prior to tis there had been no history on fatalities or study on their sting venom. The Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy began registering reactions to the jack jumper in 1989 to 1994, where they recorded 454 sting episodes in 224 subjects. Treatment is very similar to wasp and bee stings. There is an allergy immunotherapy program developed for jack jumper stings using their own venom, which the immunotherapy has shown to be effective in preventing anaphylaxis due to the sting. However, unlike bee and wasp sting venom immunotherapy, there is lack of funding for venom immunotherapy treatment from jack jumper ants. Another issues is that there is no current commercially available venom extract for skin testing, despite the immunotherapy showing evidence it prevents anaphylaxis among people who have been stung.
The Royal Hobart Hospital offers a desensitisation program for patients who had a severe allergic reaction to a jack jumper sting. Rapid dose increases during venom immunotherapy have been found to be as safe as slower dose increases. Medications like antihistamines, H2 blockers, corticosteroids and sometimes anti-leukotrienes have no effect on anaphylaxis. One in five people will need a second adrenaline injection when being treated due to jack jumper sting. Jack jumper stings are also the most common single cause of anaphylaxis presenting to the Royal Hobart Hospitals when patients were stung by the ants. Fatalities due to jack jumper ant bites were all 40 years and over with cardiopulmonary comorbidities. Two of the victims were taking angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors, which are known to increase the risk of anaphylaxis. Three of the victims also had ant-sting allergies, while the fourth victim carried adrenaline, which he did not use. Severe laryngeal oedema and coronary atherosclerosis was observed in most fatalities during their autopsies after dying from the jack jumper sting, and was shown that most of the victims who succumbed to the sting, died within 20 minutes after being stung. It has been suggested that people avoid jack jumpers, but it is difficult to do so. Closed footwear (boots and shoes) along with socks should be worn, rather than thongs or sandals which would put the person at risk of a sting. Jack jumpers however are capable of stinging through fabric and can find their way through gaps in clothing.
Follow-ups of untreated people indicates that people usually older than 30 years of age with a history of severe allergic reactions (such as respiratory compromise and hypotension) would benefit from the venom immunotherapy. Efficacy (intended results) of ant whole body extract immunotherapy remains unknown, but the immunotherapy was shown to reduce the risk of systemic reactions caused by the jack jumpers sting, showing results of a the risk rate declining from 72% to 3%. Although venom extraction has been developed, its small market size would mean that the availability for it is limited. Ultrarush initiation of insect immunotherapy is also known to increase the risk of systemic reactions in comparison to semirush initiation, with results being 65% versus 29% for systemic reactions and severe reactions at 12% versus 0%.
In a trial that involved a placebo medical treatment and the ant venom immunotherapy, 33 people who were allergic to the jack jumper were allocated to placebo and 35 were allocated to the ant venom immunotherapy. However, 4 on placebo and 12 on the ant venom immunotherapy were stopped before the primary analysis was done, which left 29 remaining on placebo and 23 on the ant venom immunotherapy. The results ended with systemic reactions occurring in 21 of the 29 patients on placebo (8 cases were associated with hypotension), and no one had any reaction while on the ant venom immunotherapy. The trial concluded that the immunotherapy is highly effective against the jack jumpers sting. Immunotherapy should be recommended to adults and children who have experienced moderate to severe allergic reactions, rather than the immunotherapy being prescribed to children who have only had skin reactions, although every case should be assessed beforehand.
Most people recover uneventfully following a mild local reaction and up to about 3% of individuals suffer a severe localized reaction. Fatalities are rare. Between 1980 and 2000, there have been four recorded deaths due to the jack jumpers sting, although recorded deaths have only been around the state of Tasmania due to anaphylactic shock, while there has been a case of a fatality in New South Wales, and another case in Tasmania, bringing the total fatalities to six, rather than four deaths. Venom immunotherapy can prevent fatalities.
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|Wikispecies has information related to: Myrmecia pilosula|
- Jack jumper ant at Catalogue of Life
- Jack jumper ant at Universal Protein Resource
- Alex Wild. "Which ants should we target for genome sequencing?". Myrmecos.
- Media related to Myrmecia pilosula at Wikimedia Commons