This is what happens underneath your spin when an ant is stinging you. About a year ago I filmed this footage of a fire ant about to sting my finger. And in the corner of the frame was something I hadn’t seen: before a droplet of venom being formed at the tip of the stinger. So, I went to read more about this, how venom is actually pumped out of the stinger, and I found out that no one’s actually filmed it before.
So I’ve been working on that and now I’ve got a bunch of footage that I want to show you. This is a stinger of an ant piercing a thin wax film and pumping venom. It’s filmed in slow motion at a thousand frames per second. I think I know why this has been filmed before. Ant stingers and the parts of them that are moving are really tiny and really fast. For scale, here’s the stinger of one of the ants in this video a harvester ant. The stinger is about 40 microns wide that’s smaller than the width of a human hair. Stingers are made up of three parts: a stylet and a pair of lancets. The lancets attached to the stylet and form a hollow canal through which venom is pumped.
In some ants, like harvester ants, the tips of the lancets are barbed. While others like this trap-jaw ant stinger are smooth and more needle-like. What I found most interesting about this footage was seeing how an ant actually delivers venom. When it inserts its stinger into something the lancets are moving back and forth beyond the length of the stylet. That back and forth movement helps the stinger drill deeper into its target but it’s also what actually pumps venom out of the stinger.
Droplets of venom are formed with each extension of a lancet. From analyzing these clips it takes an average of 75 milliseconds for a lancet to move back and forth. That’s faster than the blink of an eye which takes about 80 milliseconds. So, in just one second an ant can deliver 13 droplets of venom and even more if the back-and-forth movements of those lancets overlap. So what I think this footage is showing us is that back and forth movement of the lancets controls how fast and how much venom an ant can deliver during the sting.
So whether or not an ant catches its prey or avoids becoming prey itself is all wrapped up and how fast it can move these two little threads of cuticle. For example, this is an ant trying to sting a mealworm. This is slow-motion footage 25 times slower than real life. If the ant wants any chance of successfully delivering venom and has to be fast. I hope this video has shown you something new about ants, I know it has for me making it. While you are here check out the full fire ant video that inspired this one and be sure to subscribe to this channel for more videos like this. All right let’s cut it!