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March 14, 2011 | by  | in Opinion | [ssba]

Animal of the Week: The Bullet Ant

In the spirit of being PC, let’s give some AOTW attention to one of the smaller critters that bless our planet: the bullet ant.

To be honest, they’re total bastards. Their namesake, and their chief unpleasant trait (although there are a few to choose from), is their excruciating sting, which has been likened to the pain of being shot; with a 4+ rating, it’s ranked as the most painful sting on the Schmidt Sting Pain Index (above even that of the tarantula hawk wasp!). Adding insult to injury, before it stings, the bullet ant will throw itself from its tree-nest, shrieking, onto the perceived predator.

Yes, it can shriek—loud enough to be heard several meters away. As you can see, bullet ants are incredibly efficient, and their speed of hive construction is beyond belief. Can they form themselves in a crude catapult mechanism and launch themselves at prey? Not yet, but give them time. Since no animal can eat the bullet ant, and humans keep their distance, the bullet ant really has just one known enemy: the parasitic fungus Cordycep, the Derren Brown of the mushroom kingdom. The fungus’ spores infiltrate and devour the ant’s mind and body in order to increase its own chances of reproduction. Eventually, fruiting bodies of fungus violently sprout out of what’s left of the ant’s ravaged body, thus dispersing spores to infect any other hapless insects nearby. It may seem a tragic and unnecessarily violent way to die, but it’s hard to feel sorry for an insect that causes “waves of burning, throbbing, all-consuming pain that continues unabated for up to 24 hours”. Live by the sword, die by the sword.

[ssba]

About the Author ()

Elle started out at Salient reviewing music. In 2010, she wrote features and Animal of The Week, which an informal poll revealed to be 40% of Victoria students' favourite part of the magazine. Alongside Uther Dean, she was co-editor for 2011. In 2012, she is chief features writer.

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