Apr 1, 2012

Conga, when I was bitten by the bullet ant

Once I almost died and this is the story. I was a kid, eight or nine years old, I don't remember. I was with my father on an anthropological expedition deep within the Colombian rainforest, not so far from the Pacific cost, Chocó. My father and his team of researchers had to find a tribe of native americans, the Emberá, that was located about a day's walk from the moment we entered the jungle. I remember we got down the bus early in the morning, the only landmarks were the unpaved road and true jungle. There was not a house, not a sidewalk, not a person to be seen, not a traffic sing, not a path to follow. Just hills covered with dense tropical rainforest, and infinite ocean of green left and right.

I must say the beauty of the jungle was overwhelming. Every intensity of green has been engraved into my memory never to fade again, crystal clear brooks streamed gently everywhere decorated with huge stones covered with fresh moss. After quite a few hours of walk we found a particularly beautiful spot, there was a waterfall about four meters high, the water was falling softly and it was possible to stand underneath it to take a shower, the brook flowed like a liquid caress. We stopped to refresh ourselves, have a little swim, eat something, and recharge our energies. After a time playing in the water, I squatted down on a large rock that was bathed with a beam of sunlight. My father and his team went swimming down the transparent waters out of sight. Then, pain, a pain like I have never felt before. A monstrous ant was biting my big toe on my right foot. It was black and gigantic, fat, bigger than my toe. I can see now the ant as it was in front of my eyes, its big jaws stuck on my flesh. It was abominable and evil. It pierced my sweet little toe with its sting of doom. I was paralyzed in fear because I had never seen an ant that big and the sting hurt like hell. The ants I was used to were not bigger than two or three millimeters, the common house ants that scavenge every bit of food left uncleaned. There were some other ants mostly found solitary crawling on trees, about half a centimeter long. This ant was huge and ugly, about three centimeters long, and when I felt it I started screaming and crying immediately. In a minute my father appeared and slapped the ant with the back of his hand. The ant disappeared in a flash but it was too late, it had already injected a powerful venom into my toe. They called this ant, “Conga”.

We resumed our walk but after a few minutes I had an intense fever and the pain was so intense that I could not walk anymore. My father carried me on his shoulders and after a while I passed out. I remember arriving to the tribe, we were on a small path framed by many pineapple plants growing on the side. At the tribe the shaman gave me a strange beverage made of a mix of plants. I drank that and slept...

Our source of all knowledge says about this ant, Paraponera clavata, that “the pain caused by this insect's sting is purported to be greater than that of any other Hymenopteran, and is ranked as the most painful according to the Schmidt Sting Pain Index, given a 4+ rating, above the tarantula hawk wasp”. This ant is also called bullet ant because the sting hurts like a gun shot.

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