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Anne Marie Helmenstine, Ph.D.

World's Most Venomous Insect

By November 16, 2007

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If you read my Thanksgiving chemistry post, it won't surprise you to learn the world's most venomous insect is an ant. Not the ant in the photo... those are fire ants, which are poisonous, but don't get the award for 'most venomous insect'. That prize goes to the harvester ant (Pogonomyrmex maricopa). The LD50 for harvester ant venom (in rodents) is 0.12 mg/kg. Compare that to a LD50 of 2.8 mg/kg for a honey bee (Apis mellifera) sting. Now... that's interesting, but the part I liked was that the researchers say "equivalent to 12 stings killing a 2 kg (4.4 lb) rat". You have to wonder about that. Did they run out of lab animals and use some wharf rat in the research? Why not just say it takes about 3 stings to kill a one pound rat?

Insect venoms are comprised of amino acids, peptides and proteins. They may include alkaloids, terpenes, polysaccharides, biogenic amines (e.g., histamine), and organic acids (e.g., formic acid). Venoms also may contain allergenic proteins, which can trigger a potentially lethal immune response in sensitive individuals.

Biting and stinging are separate actions in ants. Some ants bite and do not sting. Some bite and spray venom on the bitten area. Some bite and inject formic acid with a stinger. Harvester and fire ants bite and sting in a two-part process. The ants will grab hold with their mandibles, and then pivot around, repeatedly stinging and injecting venom. The venom includes an alkaloid poison. Fire ant venom includes an alarm pheromone which chemically alerts other ants in the vicinity. Chemical signalling is why the ants all appear to sting at once... that is essentially what they do.

What Is the Most Poisonous Chemical? | Natural Mosquito Repellents
Image: Did you know fire ants could be black as well as red or brown? (USDA ARS) Add to Technorati Favorites

Comments

December 18, 2008 at 4:01 pm
(1) Mathew says:

Wow… A little venomous don’t you think. I would think it would be very painful… but then again, thats just me…

March 26, 2012 at 11:09 am
(2) PaulTheCabDriver says:

Having been bitten by these little six legged menaces, I am not surprised that they are, pound for pound, the most poisonous bugs on earth. Lucky they don’t carry much venom on them. If you are bitten by one, it leaves a welt that hurts for hours. Pain can be mitigated by applying a paste of baking soda, which neutralizes the formic acid in the sting. I think I would find them much more fascinating if there were not a large colony of them under my driveway.

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