West of the Fields

A tropical ecologist reporting from the field. Musings on life and art, botfly extractions, tropical plant identification, beer, parrots, machetes. Etc.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Bala #4

La Selva has more than 450 ant species, but there’s one that garners more than its fair share of press: Paraponera clavata, the giant tropical ant, variously called bala, bullet ant, or veinticuatros. The latter because, legend has it, the sting puts you out of commission for 24 hours. Unlike most ants of the temperate zone, the bala has an honest-to-goodness sting. It clamps on with its jaws first, curls up to bring the business end around, and pumps venom into you. It’s not quite 24 hours of debilitation, and I highly doubt it’s as bad as getting shot, but it’s not something I’d recommend.

Bala #4 got me at the base of my right little finger, about 9:30 this morning as Marisol and I hacked through lianas and tossed the stems out of the plot. It wasn’t the lianas that took revenge, after all: it was the animal that, more than any other, uses them as thoroughfares.

A bala sting starts out as intense, shooting pain at a level comparable to about fourteen yellow jacket stings. You start sweating heavily around the site, great big weird drops of sweat like sap oozing out of a cut stem. Gradually the affected area goes numb and twitchy—the venom has neurotoxins among its many nefarious constituents—alternating with more pain. Repeat for 4-5 hours. Then, if you’re like me, you get a big bruise that itches for the next five days or so. So much to look forward to.


Post a Comment

<< Home