Paraponera clavata

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Paraponera clavata
Paraponera clavata.jpg
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda
Class: Insecta
Order: Hymenoptera
Family: Formicidae
Subfamily: Paraponerinae
Tribe: Paraponerini
Genus: Paraponera
Species: P. clavata
Binomial name
Paraponera clavata
(Fabricius, 1775)

Paraponera aculeata (Olivier, 1792)
Paraponera tarsalis (Perty, 1833)

Paraponera clavata is a species of ant, commonly known as the bullet ant, named on account of its powerful and potent sting due to its venom. It inhabits humid lowland rainforests from Nicaragua and the extreme east of Honduras and south to Paraguay.


Paraponera dieteri (pictured) is the only known species that is closely related to Paraponera clavata

Paraponera clavata was first described by Danish zoologist Johan Christian Fabricius, who named it Formica clavata in his 1775 publication Systema entomologiae, based on a worker he collected. Fabricius incorrectly listed its type locality as India, although these ants are only found in South America.[1] French zoologist Pierre André Latreille would later transfer the species to the genus Ponera in 1804.[2] In 1858, the genus Paraponera was established by British entomologist Frederick Smith, who designated Paraponera clavata as the type species by monotypy (the condition of a taxonomic group having only a single taxon described).[3] In this publication, Smith would synonymise multiple taxons under Paraponera clavata, including Formica armata, Formica spininoda, Ponera tarsalis and Ponera clavata. Later publications would also synonymise more taxons, including Formica aculeata and Formica clavata.[4][5] Until 1994, Paraponera clavata was the sole member of the genus Paraponera and the subfamily Paraponerinae, but the extinct Paraponera dieteri from the Miocene was described by Cesare Baroni Urbani.[6]

P. clavata is commonly known as the bullet ant, the lesser giant hunting ant and conga ant. A local name is hormiga veinticuatro (the "24 ant" or "24-hour ant"), referring to the full day of pain that follows being stung.[7][8][9] The specific epithet clavata means "club-shaped".


Worker ants are 18–30 millimetres (0.7–1.2 in) long[10] and resemble stout, reddish-black, wingless wasps. Paraponera is predatory, and like all primitive poneromorphs, does not display polymorphism in the worker caste; the queen ant is not much larger than the workers.[11]

Paraponera clavata – museum specimen
Photograph demonstrating the size of bullet ants, with a 2-cm scale bar

Distribution and habitat[edit]

Paraponera is distributed throughout Central America and South America, commonly found in the wet neotropic ecozone. These ants are found in Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica from the north, and in Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Brazil from the south.[12] Colonies are found in lowland areas, at elevations ranging from sea level to 750 metres (2,460 ft). However, specimens have been collected at elevations of 1,500 metres (4,920 ft) in Parque La Amistad.[13]

Colonies consist of several hundred individuals and are usually situated at the bases of trees. Workers forage arboreally in the area directly above the nest for small arthropods and nectar, often as far as the upper canopy; little foraging occurs on the forest floor. Nectar, carried between the mandibles, is the most common food taken back to the nest by foragers. Two studies in Costa Rica and on Barro Colorado Island (BCI) found about four bullet ant nests per hectare of forest. On BCI, the nests were found under 70 species of trees, six species of shrubs, two species of lianas and one species of palm. Nests were most common beneath the canopies of Faramea occidentalis and Trichilia tuberculata, but these trees are also the most abundant in the forest. Nests were present more frequently than would be expected based on the abundance of the trees under Alseis blackiana, Tabernaemontana arborea, Virola sebifera, Guaria guidonia and Oecocarpus mapoura. The large number of nest plants suggests little active selection of nest sites by bullet ants. Small shrubs, however, are underused, probably because they do not provide access to the forest canopy. The study on BCI concluded trees with buttresses and extrafloral nectaries may be selected for by bullet ants.[14]


The small (1.5– to 2.0-mm-long) phorid fly, Apocephalus paraponerae, is a parasite of injured workers of P. clavata, of which the supply is constant because frequent aggressive encounters occur between neighbouring colonies, resulting in maimed workers. The flies are able to parasitise healthy ants if the ants are artificially restrained, but healthy ants are agile and able to repel them. Both male and female flies are attracted by the scent of injured ants; the females lay eggs, as well as feed, and the males feed and possibly mate with the females. The flies are attracted to a crushed ant within two to three minutes and 10 or more flies may be attracted to each ant. Each ant can harbour 20 fly larvae. Carl Rettenmeyer observed P. clavata actively trying to attack A. paraponerae when they approached the entrance to their nest.[10][15]

Relationship with humans[edit]


The pain caused by this insect's sting is reported to be greater than that of any other hymenoptera, and is ranked as the most painful according to the Schmidt sting pain index, given a "4+" rating, above the tarantula hawk wasp and, according to some victims, equal to being shot, hence the name of the insect. It is described as causing "waves of burning, throbbing, all-consuming pain that continues unabated for up to 24 hours". The sting is considered to be an effective defence against predators.[8] Poneratoxin, a paralyzing neurotoxic peptide isolated from the venom, affects voltage-dependent sodium ion channels and blocks the synaptic transmission in the central nervous system. It is being investigated for possible medical applications.[16][17]

Initiation rites[edit]

The Sateré-Mawé people of Brazil use intentional bullet ant stings as part of their initiation rites to become a warrior.[18] The ants are first rendered unconscious by submerging them in a natural sedative, and then hundreds of them are woven into gloves made of leaves (which resembles a large oven mitt), stingers facing inward. When the ants regain consciousness, a boy slips the gloves onto his hands. The goal of this initiation rite is to keep the glove on for a full 10 minutes. When finished, the boy's hand and part of his arm are temporarily paralyzed because of the ant venom, and he may shake uncontrollably for days. The only "protection" provided is a coating of charcoal on the hands, supposedly to confuse the ants and inhibit their stinging. To fully complete the initiation, however, the boys must go through the ordeal a total of 20 times over the course of several months or even years.[19]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Fabricius, Johann Christian (1775). Systema entomologiae, sistens insectorum classes, ordines, genera, species, adiectis synonymis, locis, descriptionibus, observationibus. Flensburgi et Lipsiae: Libraria Kortii. p. 395. 
  2. ^ Latreille, P.A. (1804). "Tableau méthodique des insectes. Classe huitième. Insectes, Insecta" (PDF). Nouveau Dictionnaire d'Histoire Naturelle. 24: 129–200. 
  3. ^ Smith, Frederick (1858). Catalogue of hymenopterous insects in the collection of the British Museum part VI. Formicidae (PDF). London: British Museum. p. 100. 
  4. ^ Gustav, Mayr (1863). "Formicidarum index synonymicus" (PDF). Verhandlungen der Zoologisch-Botanischen Gesellschaft in Wien. 13: 385–460. doi:10.5281/zenodo.25913. 
  5. ^ Emery, Carlo (1911). "Hymenoptera. Fam. Formicidae. Subfam. Ponerinae." (PDF). Genera Insectorum. 118: 1–125. 
  6. ^ Baroni Urbani, Cesare (1994). "The identity of the Dominican Paraponera. (Amber Collection Stuttgart: Hymenoptera, Formicidae. V: Ponerinae, partim.)" (PDF). Stuttgarter Beiträge zur Naturkunde. 197: 1–9. doi:10.5281/zenodo.26804. 
  7. ^ Charles Leonard Hogue (1993). Latin American insects and entomology. University of California Press. p. 439. ISBN 0-520-07849-7. Retrieved 2010-11-03. 
  8. ^ a b "The Word:Sting pain index". New Scientist No 2617,. 2007-08-18: 44. Retrieved 2015-08-30. (subscription required)
  9. ^ Capinera, John L. (2008). Encyclopedia of Entomology (2nd ed.). Dordrecht: Springer. p. 615. ISBN 978-1-4020-6242-1. 
  10. ^ a b Brown, B. V.; Feener, D. H. (1991). "Behavior and Host Location Cues of Apocephalus paraponerae (Diptera: Phoridae), a Parasitoid of the Giant Tropical Ant, Paraponera clavata (Hymenoptera: Formicidae)". Biotropica. 23 (2): 182–187. doi:10.2307/2388304. JSTOR 2388304. 
  11. ^ Morgan, Randy C. "Giant Tropical Bullet Ant, Paraponera clavata, Natural History and Captive Management". Sonoran Arthropod Studies Institute. Archived from the original on March 23, 2009. Retrieved June 10, 2014. 
  12. ^ AntWeb. "Species: Paraponera clavata (Fabricius, 1775)". The California Academy of Sciences. Retrieved 2 September 2015. 
  13. ^ Murphy, CM; Breed, MD (2007). "A predictive distribution map for the giant tropical ant, Paraponera clavata". Journal of insect science. 7: 1–10. doi:10.1673/031.007.0801. PMC 2999403free to read. PMID 20334591. 
  14. ^ Belk, M. C.; Black, H. L.; Jorgensen, C. D.; Hubbell, S. P.; Foster, R. B. (1989). "Nest Tree Selectivity by the Tropical Ant, Paraponera clavata". Biotropica. Biotropica, Vol. 21, No. 2. 21 (2): 173–177. doi:10.2307/2388707. JSTOR 2388707. 
  15. ^ Shellee Morehead; Jon Seger; Don Feener; Brian Brown. "A cryptic species complex in the ant parasitoid Apocephalus paraponerae (Diptera: Phoridae)". Archived from the original on 2010-04-07. 
  16. ^ Szolajska, Ewa (June 2004). "Poneratoxin, a neurotoxin from ant venom: Structure and expression in insect cells and construction of a bio-insecticide". European Journal of Biochemistry. 271 (11): 2127–36. doi:10.1111/j.1432-1033.2004.04128.x. PMID 15153103. Retrieved June 10, 2014. 
  17. ^ Gerritsen, Vivienne Baillie (September 2001). "Princess Bala's sting". Protein Spotlight. Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics. Retrieved June 10, 2014. 
  18. ^ Backshall, Steve (6 January 2008). "Bitten by the Amazon". London: The Sunday Times. Retrieved 13 July 2013. 
  19. ^ "Initiation With Ants". National Geographic. National Geographic. Retrieved 13 February 2014.  Video of initiation rite by National Geographic, showing preparation of glove and its use.

Further reading[edit]

  • Bequaert, J.C. (1926). Medical Report of the Hamilton Rice 7th. Expedition to the Amazon. Harvard University Press. pp. 250–253. 
  • Weber, N. A. (1939). "The sting of the ant, Paraponera clavata". Science. 89: 127–128. doi:10.1126/science.89.2302.127-a. 
  • Lattke, JE (2003) - Subfamilia Ponerinae in Introducción a las Hormigas de la Région Neotropical - Von Humboldt Institute, Bogota, Colombia.
  • Breed, M. D.; Bennett, B. (1985). "Mass recruitment to nectar sources in Paraponera clavata: A field study". Insectes Sociaux. 32 (2): 198. doi:10.1007/BF02224233. 

Jandt, Jennifer; Larson, Hannah; Tellez, Peter; McGlynn, Terrence (December 2013). "To drink or grasp? How bullet ants (Paraponera clavata) differentiate between sugars and proteins in liquids". Naturwissenschaften. 100 (12): 1109. doi:10.1007/s00114-013-1109-3. PMID 24193251. Retrieved 1 May 2015. 

External links[edit]