Eciton hamatum

Eciton burchellii

It’s hard to look at Eciton soldiers and not wonder what’s up with those evil tusks.

So here it is: those hooked jaws are designed to inflict pain on vertebrates.

I don’t post this for shock value but as a statement of fact. The ant uses them to snare offending animals and anchor herself to their skin. Once hooked, she uses her stinger (a sharp lance at the butt end of the insect) to inject venom. It’s an ingenious trick. Removing a stinging insect attached with fishing hooks is not easy.

Army ant bivouacs conceal piles of tasty larvae, and army ant raids gather concentrated stores of valuable rainforest protein. Many a mammal or bird could feast well off the army ants, and it is the job of the soldier to make such attempts as unpleasant as possible.

Outside their defensive post, soldiers are useless. Those tusks do not permit them to capture or carry prey, nor are they suitable for tending to brood.

Enough biology, though. Which species’ sting hurts more?

No question. Eciton burchelli has both a nastier sting and less trepidation about using it.

In the grand scheme of insect-induced agony, surprisingly, army ants rank low. I’d rate them as somewhat less painful than the common honey bee. Makes for a dramatic photo, though, even if I am shamelessly ripping off Mark Moffett.