Stingers

Jack Jumper ant
Ouch!! I felt a sharp stabbing pain on the webbing between two fingers of my left hand. I looked down to see a Jack Jumper ant gripping my skin tightly with its mandibles and burying its sting in my flesh. I had been winding a hose back on its reel, the ant had taken a ride on the hose, became caught in my hand and went into attack mode. Ever been stabbed by hot needles? That’s what it feels like.

Jack Jumper ants Myrmecia pilosula (also known as Jumping Jack, jumper, skipper or hopper ants) are found across southern Australia including Victoria, Tasmania, southern New South Wales, and southern South Australia and Western Australia. Research has shown significant genetic variation between ant populations which, along with other factors, suggesting several sibling species may be involved. Consequently they are referred to in scientific literature as the Myrmecia pilosula ‘complex’ or ‘group’. That might sound a bit complicated but what these related species have in common is the way they look and the way they behave.

Jumping Jack ant

The Jack Jumper ant is a member of the bull ant (or ‘bulldog’ ant) genus – Myrmecia – an ancient group of ants only found in Australia and New Caledonia. It is a scavenger, predator (look at how the ant is manhandling the bee in the image above) and nectar feeder, and hunts on the ground and in low foliage. At about 10 mm in length Myrmecia pilosula is one of the smallest species of the genus Myrmecia. It is mostly black with yellow-brown mandibles (jaws), antennae and lower legs. It is extremely aggressive by nature and moves in a characteristically jerky jumping manner. When you first see this movement it looks somewhat playful, even a little comical, but there is nothing funny about its sting!

My finger recovered in a couple of days. Some people aren’t so lucky. Jack Jumper ants can cause anaphylaxis, a life-threatening condition in some people typified by constriction of the throat and difficulty in breathing. Other symptoms include swelling and itchiness around the wound, weakness, nausea, and loss of consciousness. Severe symptoms may occur within minutes and if medical treatment is not sought immediately some people are in grave danger. Adrenaline (epinephrine) is a common treatment for anaphylaxis. A friend of mine has to carry an EpiPen because she has severe reactions to Jack Jumper ant stings and lives in an area where their nests are common.

Jack jumper antsJack Jumper ant nests are not always obvious. They are always underground and sometimes the entrances to their nests are covered with leaf litter and other material. When in open ground their nests are often decorated with small pebbles and pieces of charcoal. I usually come across their nests when raking leaves. Nothing gets Jack Jumper ants going more than a perceived threat to their nest – they pour out looking for the intruder. Inside the nest there may be more than one queen (usually related), and many eggs and larvae – all serviced by 50 to 500 workers (depending on nest size and maturity). Mature colonies produce winged reproductive males and females which fly from the nest to mate and begin new colonies.

The stings of all ants are modified egg laying apparatuses (ovipositors) of female ants. As all worker ants are sterile females that means that most of the ants you come across are likely to be armed! Take care out there.

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