Anyone on our team that has worked in the bush or even an established planted landscape environment has probably encountered bull ants. Some have been lucky enough to have not been stung as yet (but it will probably happen) while many of us have had the experience of a dreadful sting.
Most people don’t know much about Bull Ants except that they treat them with the same respect as a bee or spider, or even a snake. A bull ant bite is usually not dangerous to your health but the string.. it is something you WILL remember. Different species have a different level of aggression but none of them back-off from a good chance at a sting if you happen to be near the nest!
They have excellent eyesight and so will chase you for several metres until you are a safe distance from their nest. The smallest species, are the most aggressive – ” The Jumper Ants” and as the name implies they will launch themselves at you and usually get in 3 more stings before you locate it and brush it off. As well as the small jumper ants at about 2 cm in length, the most common ones encountered along the east coast and inland measure up to 3 cms long and come with a green or rusty read coloured head and thorax, with a black abdomen (which is where the sting comes from). Some found in the more arid areas can be up to 4 cm’s and there are also other colour combinations.
They are a primitive species of invertebrates and are actually wingless wasps. They have a have a very ordered social structure. Contrary to what most people think when bitten, the ant holds onto you or your clothing with his mandible (jaw) and swings his abdomen around and strings you with a needle sharp stinger oozing venom.
Some people have an allergic reaction to the sting but most people are only left with a white welt surrounded by a red circle which will itch for days afterwards. They don’t lose their sting like a bee does, and often string a victim multiple times within the few seconds of holding on. The Jaws are actually quite gentle and do not cause damage; they are just for holding.
The bull ant colonies are founded by a single queen that separates from her original colony after she has mated with a male. Bull ant queens can actually determine whether the eggs with hatch male or female. She lays numerous eggs in out-of-the-way places and tends to the larvae until they hatch. The first batch are female workers who build the nest and she then lays eggs which will be males. The cycle is then repeated to start new colonies. They feed on other insects as well as honeydew from scale insects and plant leaves and stems
Remember if you do get bitten and you feel something is not right, call your doctor immediately!
To assess yourself ask the following questions:
1. Am I feeling okay in general?
2. Is my breathing steady?
3. Am I feeling Dizzy?
4. Has any pain and swelling stayed localised to the bite zone?
Check in with yourself this way for 5, 10, 30, 60 and 90 minutes after the initial bite to ensure you aren’t having an allergic reaction.
If you are feeling okay, but the sting and itch is bothering you:
- Use a cold pack
- Wash the bite site
- Get some soothing cream to relieve a minor reaction,
- Take a oral antihistamines to treat the itch.