A couple of days ago, I trod on a bull ants' nest.
We were familiar with bull ants as children on the Northern Tablelands, where we had two sorts, red and black. The black ones were more common and bigger, but the red ones were known to have more powerful stings. You didn’t want to be stung by a red bull ant!
But the bull ants that we get here on the North Coast, are enormous, astonishing to encounter for the first time.
I have very occasionally seen the odd ant out foraging, but this is only the third nest that I have found in the 30 or so years on our property. They are much less common here and not so fast as their close relatives, the jumping ants, although I can testify that this species also can jump, at least a few centimetres.
I think our species is the Giant brown bull ant, Myrmecia pyriformis. They are nocturnal, which explains why we don’t often see them during the day, leaving the nest at dusk and returning at dawn (Reid et al, 2013).
I accidentally trod on the nest while I was out planting ferns. I did get stung, but having worked in our garden with jumping ants, leeches and ticks for 30 years, my reactions are pretty swift to anything trying to penetrate my delicate skin.
The ant only managed a series of glancing touches with its stinger before being swiped away. It hurt a bit for half an hour or so, like being stung a few times by a jumping ant.
So I was very surprised at the reaction to the sting on my leg, the next day. According to Wikipedia this species “has been certified as the world’s most dangerous ant” by the Guinness Book of Records.
People have died from anaphylactic shock, after being stung.
But at this stage, the sting was neither itchy nor sore.