Monday, January 31, 2011

Australia's Deadly Jack Jumper Ants

I was sitting on a trail in a very thick wild area north of Sydney last week when I noticed large, kind of iridescent, blue-green ants around me. A closer look revealed some impressive yellow mandibles (jaws, or pincers):


Here's a short video of one washing its pincers:




Christine did a bit of researching, and while they appear to come in a variety of colors, the huge yellow mandibles point toward these being Jack Jumper ants, also known as a Hopper or Skipper ants, a type of bull ant from the primitive genus Myrmecia, which is found only in Australia (well, one of the ninety or so species is found in New Caledonia):

The Jack Jumper Ant is a large species of Bulldog Ant. They have a jumping motion when disturbed which gives them their common name. The workers are black with yellow mandibles, antennae, and lower parts of the legs. The head is slightly broader than it is long and mandibles are slightly shorter than the head. The mandibles have four large sharp teeth with a smaller tooth in between each large one. The queen is similar in colour to the workers but is larger and more robust.

That pretty much describes the guy in the photo above, although the "black" in this case is more bluish, and the legs aren't quite as yellow as the photos I'm seeing, but nature is not that consistent.

I looked back at the several videos I took of them, and I even saw one jumping. (It happens very quick in this short video.)



The special thing about these ants is their sting. They don't bite, they sting, like wasps (which ants and bees are related to). And it's a very powerful sting:

A program to desensitise people to the potentially fatal jack jumper ant in Tasmania has been declared a success.

At less than a centimetre long with bright orange pincers, the jack jumper ant may be small but its sting can be deadly.

Allergic reactions can be more severe than those to bee stings, ranging from a rash and swelling, to unconsciousness and even death.

Of course. It's Australia. More:

In areas where Jack Jumper ants are common, population surveys have shown that between 2 and 3 per cent of people have had generalised allergic reactions, and in around half of these people the reactions can be life threatening. Deaths from Jack Jumper ant stings and anaphylaxis have occurred in Australia, with several recorded cases in recent years. Since allergy as a cause of death can be difficult to detect at post mortem, it is conceivable that deaths due to sting allergy are under reported.

An extra fact:

The jack jumper ant genome is contained on a single pair of chromosomes (males have just one chromosome as they are haploid), the lowest number known (or even possible) for any animal.

Lots more photos at Ants Down Under.

19 comments:

  1. I wouldn't want to get too close to one of them.

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  2. They were all around me but seemed to have no interest in me at all.

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  3. That place is crazy with crazy animals! Even the ants are different. Keep the dispatches comin' baby!

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  4. Got stung by one of these on the neck over the weekend. I've seen them in the area for years, and am aware of the danger they pose - we have an Epipen with us just in case.

    This one (I think) was on a branch I brushed past. I second later I felt something crawling on my neck and when I tried to brush it off it stung me 3 times within a couple of seconds.

    I made sure others knew I had been stung and asked them to watch me closely for the next 30 minutes, just in case I went into anaphylaxis.

    The initial sting was sharp, then within a few seconds started to burn. It continued to burn for about 45 minutes then the pain was more of an ache, a constant pain. It took a few hours to subside completely. I did not blister, but had red welts at the sting sites within a couple of minutes. Overall, not as bad as I expected but still not something to repeat!

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    1. Oowah. Thanks for the tale, mwotten. Glad you survived it.

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  5. Far out and yesterday i got bitten by one

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    1. And? Similar to mwotten's reaction?

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  6. Meh, what can we expect in a country where even cute buggers like the platypus are poisonous?

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    1. I hear you. I really, really hear you.

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  7. i'm in indonesia. and it's appear in front of my house gate today -_- dafuq is this? really i never knew this species before.

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  8. Very cool, Anon of Indo. Now you know!

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  9. FWIW, I spent a month is Oz in '83 and other than a close call with an Emu in a Sanctuary (it wanted my Veggimite sammich, which was really a can of 35mm film), saw no dangerous insects, snakes, fish or sharks (etc.) during the stay. I did see a few Sheilas that seemed capable of doing me (harm). ;)

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    1. You need to come back and do more exploring! You'll see plenty!

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  10. Oh my goodness these ants are all the way down my driveway and my son just LOVES to play with them! I am so gonna tell him that they are not "fun" to play with! He loves anything with 6 or more legs

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    1. Hoo doggy. Those are not playthings!

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  11. I live in Tas ,, I suffer anaphylactic reactions to these nasty little critters,, I have just spent 3 days in LGH in recovery, Iv been stung a few times over my life and this time I nearly died,, and now being referred to tassies
    desensitisation program ,, I suggest people avoid at all costs

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    1. Yow, Tony, so sorry to hear that. Damn. Thanks for telling us the story - and please give us an update if you can. (Sorry it took so long to reply.)

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  12. LT ,, cheers , recovered well and now on the waiting list for desensitisation,, fingers crossed

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    1. Ah - thanks for getting back to me. Good to hear, hope it's gone well since.

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