When I was too young to know any better, I used to wander around my mother’s garden and collect bees in jars. This was my source of entertainment for several summers in a row. I always let them go, of course, and can’t recall ever being stung. Of course… I once invited to my friend to join me on one of my trapping excursions and she was immediately stung by a struggling honey bee. It wasn’t her fault, she was an amateur. So when my friend Frank asked me to collect some bullet ants from the forest so he could study the venom it brought me skipping down memory lane. Lucky for him, we share the same insect permit so taking them to Lima will not be a problem.
Catching them…almost not a problem. Last night I found a bullet ant nest on my way back from setting my mosquito traps and squealed for joy. I had brought 3 plastic tubes with me for this very reason. I placed the tube over the venomous ant and waited for her to investigate a nonexistent exit away from the opening so I could pop the top on with lightning speed. Bingo. As I was trapping the second one, some of the ants had caught on that I was stealing valuable members from their colony and one hissed at me (yes, bullet ants hiss) and tried to launch itself onto the tube. Fat chance buddy. I incarcerated her as well.
Once back in the lab the tricky bit unfolded. I had to somehow open the lid, and fill the tube with alcohol without the ant crawling or swimming to the top and stinging me. The first two went without a hitch, but the third one (probably the one that hissed at me) managed to ride the wave of alcohol up and out of the tube and flew directly to my hand. The very millisecond I felt contact I freaked out and made a spastic maneuver which just so happen to fling her off before she could sting me. Somewhere in there, I yelled some pretty strong Spanish curse words, because after I had caught her again, my shirt covered in alcohol, I looked up to find one of my fellow researchers starring at me in confusion. “Who tries to catch bullet ants??” he inquired in Spanish, and not waiting for a response, rolled his eyes and walked away. Not try mi amigo, do. Crazy gringa…
So as of now, I have the five specimens I needed, with only one slightly squished. Of course… it dawned on me that I have only been stung three times since I came to Peru, makes another two stings inevitable due to the vengeful nature of the bullet ants. Never underestimate the power of revenge within the Paraponera clavata species!!!
Another friaje has rolled in which means no mosquitoes, and lots of clothing layers. Oh, and lots of tea. I miss my Grandma’s superior cups of tea!!