Bullet ants contain a venom not so much deadly as it is excruciatingly painful, and for the first time ever, scientists have been attempting to extract it.
An ant living in the Amazon rainforest can sting a person so badly "it feels like you were shot by a gun." The cause of the pain is in the venom the ant injects you with. (Mad) scientists are now trying to milk this venom in order to study it in detail, and perhaps put it to use in medicines.
Its name is the Bullet Ant, and you can guess why. It is one of the largest species of ant yet discovered, and thankfully lives far from any major population centres. There is one Amazonian tribe, however, that uses the ant as part of its adolescence rites.
The ritual of the Sateré-Mawé people is strictly for young men. The boys, as young as 12, are sent out into the rainforest to collect bullet ants, which they put into a glove made of sticks or leaves. Each boy performing the rite must wear the gloves for ten minutes, while dancing - twenty different times.
The tribe's chief says the ritual is meant to show young men how a life lived "without suffering anything or without any kind of effort" is not a worthwhile life.
Watch Hamish, of Hamish & Andy, try wearing the gloves. He looks like he's having a really great time.
The ant's venom is thirty times more painful than a typical bee sting, according to Justin O. Schmidt's sting pain index. He places it almost by itself in "category 4," the highest level. Schmidt has been stung by over 150 different insect species in his time as an entomologist, so we're going to trust him on this one.
There are many possible uses of the venom once it has been successfully extracted. First of all, like most venoms, it could be used to create an anti-venom - something I will definitely want to carry with me if I am ever hiking through the rainforest. Since it works by causing nerves to malfunction, and affecting how long they keep sending false signals, scientists also believe it could be part of a painkiller, which is crazy. It might even be an all-natural insecticide.
Watch the process of extraction in the video below:
Wearing gloves that cause the worst pain you'll ever feel does seem marginally better than awkward first dances and high school hazing, I suppose. It's good to put things in perspective! Thanks, nature.