Bullet Ant Fact File

Paraponera clavata

Credit: Geoff Gallice, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons









90 days




Conservation Status


Not Evaluated

The bullet ant is listed on the Schmidt pain index as having the most painful sting of any insect on Earth. They share this distinction with the Tarantula hawk wasp. Pain from this sting lasts 24 hours.

Their body is colored reddish-black and is covered by small hairs. Unlike other ants both the workers and the queen are similar in size.

Once the colony has matured the queen will start to produce fertilized eggs which will produce virgin queens and males which will leave the birth colony to produce new ones.

These animals have a unique relationship with the phorid fly which lays its eggs in an injured bullet fly. Up to 20 larvae may develop in a single ant.

Read on to learn more about these incredible invertebrates.


What does the bullet ant look like?

The body of the bullet ant is colored reddish-black. As an insect they have the standard three body segments, the head, thorax and abdomen. They have six legs, three on either side of the body. Protruding from the head are two antennae used to sense their environment. Small hairs are present across the body and legs.

One of their most notable features is the large pincers which are used to seize prey.

An average bullet ant will measure 25mm (1in) long. Unlike many other ant species their is little difference in size between queens and their workers.


What does the bullet ant eat?

Bullet ants are carnivores which will feed on nectar and small insects. They have also been recorded to scavenge for carrion.

One of their prey items the glasswing butterfly larvae have an unpleasant taste to deter the threat.

Bullet Ant

Credit: Graham Wise from Brisbane, Australia, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons


Where can you find the bullet ant?

South and Central America is the native home of the bullet ant. Their range covers areas in the following countries - Bolivia, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua.


What kind of environment does the bullet ant live in?

They make their home in tropical forests.

Their nest is formed as the base of a tree which has buttress roots. Occasionally their nest is found in the treetops.

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How does the bullet ant produce its young?

Breeding begins with the fertile, winged males and new queens leaving the nest in a swarm. They meet up and mate with the males losing their wings soon after this.

The queen will then go and dig a nest where she can lay her first eggs. Their eggs are small and oval shaped.

These hatch in to larvae which she raises. They will go through a series of molts before reaching a stage where they enter a protective cocoon and then emerge. These become the first workers in the nest.

It takes six to ten weeks for them to complete their lifespan from egg to adult.

Occasionally larvae are moved to warmer areas in the nest which speeds up development.

Females will only produce fertilized queens which can establish their own colony when they have enough workers to sustain their nest. She holds sperm from her initial mating in a pouch on the abdomen which is only opened when they choose.

Queens have significantly longer lifespans than workers.


What does the bullet ant do with its day?

These ants will form colonies with several hundred members. Some grow as large as 3,000 individuals.

Hunting takes place on their own or in a small group.

The legs of the bullet ant are sticky and this allows them to climb well along with allowing them to be agile.

These insects are active during the day.

Bullet Ant

Credit: Graham Wise from Brisbane, Australia, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Predators and Threats

What is impacting the survival of the bullet ant?

Cane toads are a natural predator of this species. These ants may cannibalize one another. They are parasitized by the phorid fly which lays its eggs in an injured fly. A single ant can harbor as many as 20 fly larvae.

If the nest is threatened workers rush to the entrance and attack the threat. During this time they may produce a loud buzzing sound which works to deter the predator.

Like many species in the Amazon they are threatened through habitat loss.

Quick facts

In some parts of the bullet ants range adolescents will undergo an initiation ritual in which they are bitten by one of these ants in an effort to prove their strength. In some areas a young man must be bitten 20 times before being considered a warrior.

The bite of the bullet ant is believed to be the most painful inflicted by any insect. This is mainly used for defense and when a human is bitten it proves highly painful.

They are also known as the conga ant or lesser giant hunting ant. Some call them the 24 hour ant due to their pain lasting for around 24 hours.

Bullet ants are the only species in the subfamily. They last had a living ancestor roughly 90 million years ago.

Bullet Ant

Credit: © Hans Hillewaert


Tomasinelli, F., Yumenokaori and Knight, S., 2020. Bugs of the world. 1st ed. New York: Hachette Book Group

Esquire. 2021. What It's Like to Get Stung by the World's Most Painful Insect. [online] Available at: <https://www.esquire.com/lifestyle/health/a37149/what-feels-like-stung-by-most-painful-insect/> [Accessed 27 September 2021].

ThoughtCo. 2021. The Bullet Ant: How Painful Is Its Infamous Sting?. [online] Available at: <https://www.thoughtco.com/bullet-ant-sting-facts-4174296> [Accessed 27 September 2021].

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BUG UNDER GLASS. 2021. Bullet Ant: World’s Most Painful Insect | BUG UNDER GLASS. [online] Available at: <https://bugunderglass.com/bullet-ant-worlds-most-painful-insect/> [Accessed 27 September 2021].

MYRMECOS. 2021. Paraponera clavata, the bullet ant. [online] Available at: <http://www.myrmecos.net/2011/02/28/paraponera-clavata-the-bullet-ant/> [Accessed 27 September 2021].

Bioweb.uwlax.edu. 2021. UWL Website. [online] Available at: <http://bioweb.uwlax.edu/bio203/s2013/koier_kath/reproduction.htm> [Accessed 27 September 2021].

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