Ant Stings Revealed: Unveiling the Neurotoxin Secrets and Advancing Pain Research

By: | June 12th, 2023

Image by Pixabay

Researchers at the University of Queensland have discovered that certain ant stings cause extreme pain due to nerve-targeting neurotoxins. These toxins have a distinct effect on the body, unlike snake and scorpion venom. The findings improve our understanding of pain and potential treatments. Limited research has been done on ant sting mechanisms due to the insects’ size. 

Researchers studied the Australian green ant and the South American bullet ant, known for their highly painful stings.

During their investigation, researchers discovered that neurotoxins are responsible for the prolonged pain caused by the stings of these ants.

“Bullet ant stings can be painful for up to 12 hours, and it’s a deep drilling pain you feel in your bones with sweating and goosebumps, quite unlike the 10-minute impact of a typical bee sting,” said Sam Robinson, lead author of the study. “We don’t have bullet ants in Australia, but our green ant – or greenhead ant – can also cause long-lasting pain and many Australians will have experienced this.”

Since the era of dinosaurs, ants have utilized neurotoxins to protect themselves from predators. The researchers emphasize that this newfound understanding of pain mechanisms is crucial for developing innovative pain treatments.

Dr. Robinson said, “We want to understand pain at a molecular level and toxins are fantastic tools to do this,” 

“These neurotoxins which target sodium channels are unique to ants, no one has found anything that looks or acts the same way so now we have a new set of tools to work with.”

Nidhi Goyal

Nidhi is a gold medalist Post Graduate in Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences.

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