What is a Bullet Ant and Should You be Concerned?
Seems like every year there’s a new type of ant to be afraid of; fire ants, crazy ants, and Argentine ants, to name a few. And what could be worse than ants that are insane or aflame? Well, the bullet ant sounds pretty deadly—and there’s plenty to hate about it.
The bullet ant has several names including the lesser giant hunting ant and the conga ant. The most accurate moniker comes from the Central and South American regions where the ant is found: hormiga veinticuartro or “ant twenty-four.” The name refers to the 24 hours of searing pain that follows from the sting of a bullet ant.
The bullet ant is huge (for an ant) about 0.7 to 1.2 inches long and its sting is worse than that of a wasp, bee, or even fire ant. According to the Schmidt Sting Pain Index (yes, there is such a thing) the bullet ant rates at a “4+” more than twice the pain of a wasp sting. The sting has been compared to being shot, hence the name bullet ant. For that you’d think Schmidt would have given it a bigger number, like 4,000, but no matter. The sting has been described as “waves of burning, throbbing, all-consuming pain that continues unabated for up to 24 hours.”
Before you start shopping for a bullet ant proof vest calm your fears with the fact that the ant is native to the rainforests of Nicaragua and regions south, down to Paraguay. In Brazil the indigenous Satere-Mawe people use bullet ants as part of their initiation rites, intended to make warriors out of adolescent boys. Hundreds of bullet ants are put into a glove. The boy must put his hand into the glove and keep it there for 10 minutes while he receives hundreds of ant stings. Imagine a root canal with no anesthetic on all your teeth at the same time. This ritual is repeated 20 times over the course of several months.
If you live north of Nicaragua, and you’re not a member of the Satere-Mawe tribe, odds are you’ll never encounter a bullet ant. And if you do, just think of them as conga ants - as they do a dance of perpetual pain over your skin.