Paraponera clavata

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Paraponera clavata
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda
Class: Insecta
Order: Hymenoptera
Family: Formicidae
Subfamily: Paraponerinae
Genus: Paraponera
Species: P. clavata
Binomial name
Paraponera clavata
(Fabricius, 1775)

Paraponera clavata casent0006789 profile 1.jpg

Paraponera clavata casent0006789 dorsal 1.jpg

Specimen Label


Paraponera clavata is a very large (> 2 cm long) and potentially aggressive ant of the New World tropics. Known within its range as the "bala" ant they pack a powerful sting. Workers forage arboreally at all heights in the canopy; nests are subterranean at the bases of trees, or occasionally in humus accumulations in the canopy; workers forage on live prey and extrafloral nectar; males are frequent at blacklights.

Photo Gallery

  • Paraponera clavata infected by Ophiocordycceps ponerinarum. In this association, the fungus leads the ant to climb up on a tree, to die attached to the trunk. (Photo by João P. M. Araújo)


Its large size, conspicuous antennal scrobes, and the uniquely shaped petiole make this monotypic genus immediately recognizable.


Distribution based on Regional Taxon Lists

Neotropical Region: Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, French Guiana, Guyana, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname.

It is found in Ecuador, Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia, Peru, Suriname, Paraguay, French Guiana, Guyana, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama and Costa Rica.

Distribution based on AntMaps


Distribution based on AntWeb specimens

Check data from AntWeb


Paraponera clavata. Image by Alex Wild.

Wetterer (1994) - P. clavata usually nest at the base of trees, but some have arboreal nests (Breed & Harrison 1989). Colonies can grow to have more than 2000 workers (Breed & Harrison 1988). Workers usually ascend their nest tree to forage in the foliage of the canopy and understory. Foragers most commonly return to the nest carrying drops of liquid in their mandibles, but they also bring back plant parts and captured invertebrate prey (Young & Hermann 1980, Bennet & Breed 1985). Foragers collect plant extrafloral nectaries (Young 1977). Janzen and Carroll (1983) observed P. clavata workers guarding and collecting nectar from extrafloral nectaries of Pentaclethra macroloba and other plants.

Morrison (2018) found cane toads were a major predator of P. clavata. Toads were observed sitting adjacent to nests and eating up to an ant a minute. The predation was deemed to have caused the demise of 5 of 12 observed nests in the Panama study area.


This taxon is a host for the fungi Cordyceps doiana, Ophiocordyceps australis and Ophiocordyceps ponerinarum (Araujo et al., 2018; Sanjuan et al., 2015; Shrestha et al., 2017).


Alex Wild provides the following notes on the sting of this ant:

I was stung by a bullet ant last week in Costa Rica. On purpose. How did it feel? Bearable. Given this species’ fearsome reputation, I was expecting worse. It certainly hurt, though.

Paraponera clavata. Image by Alex Wild.

It wasn’t just the initial sear from the sting’s penetration, imparting all the sharpness one would anticipate from a relatively large hymenopteran, but the way the pain sank beneath the skin.

The bullet ant has a reputation for feeling like a firearm wound. Having never been shot, I can’t make much of the comparison. I imagine an actual shooting would be far more traumatic, but all the same I understand where the name comes from. A Paraponera sting feels more profound than the average insect sting. Like tissue or bone damage, it is a deep throbbing ache that crescendos over several hours. Unlike a honey bee sting, whose sharpness gives way quickly to a dull itch, the bullet ant’s sting is the gift that keeps on giving. Less a gunshot, I suppose, than the lasting pain following a solid crowbar to the arm. Although bearable, mine still ached when I went to bed 8 hours later. All pain was gone in the morning.

We tend not to make much of where on the body we’re stung, but stings are like real estate. Location, location, location. The forearm is a relatively mild substrate, a safe place to experiment with stings. I was once zinged on the tip of the nose by a common honey bee. Holy bejeezus. I’ll take twelve bullet ants to the arm before I wish to relive that one.

Independent colony foundation

Founding queens need to hunt before the first generation of workers become adult (i.e. non-claustral foundation). Trophic eggs were observed to be laid by first workers and given directly to medium and mature larvae (Peeters 2017).

Laboratory colony of P. clavata, showing dimorphism between founding queen (bottom right) and its first workers. From Villa Carmen, Peru. Photo by Christian Peeters.


Specimens from Villa Carmen, near Pilcopata (Peru), imaged by Mônica Antunes Ulysséa


(abdomen partly removed for dissection of ovaries)

Paraponera Queen L Mônica Antunes Ulysséa.jpg.jpg
Paraponera Queen D Mônica Antunes Ulysséa.jpg
Paraponera Queen F Mônica Antunes Ulysséa.jpg


Paraponera Worker L Mônica Antunes Ulysséa.jpg
Paraponera Worker D Mônica Antunes Ulysséa.jpg
Paraponera Worker F Mônica Antunes Ulysséa.jpg.jpg



The following information is derived from Barry Bolton's New General Catalogue, a catalogue of the world's ants.

  • clavata. Formica clavata Fabricius, 1775: 394 (w.) India (locality in error). Lepeletier, 1835: 189 (w.q.); Smith, F. 1858b: 101 (m.); Mayr, 1862: 731 (q.m.); Wheeler, G.C. & Wheeler, J. 1952a: 117 (l.). Combination in Paraponera: Smith, F. 1858b: 100. Senior synonym of aculeata and material of the unavailable name spininoda referred here: Latreille, 1802c: 207; of tarsalis: Smith, F. 1858b: 100. See also: Brown, 1958g: 205.
  • aculeata. Formica aculeata Olivier, 1792: 498 (w.) FRENCH GUIANA. Junior synonym of clavata: Latreille, 1802c: 207.
  • tarsalis. Ponera tarsalis Perty, 1833: 135, pl. 27, fig. 2 (w.) BRAZIL. Junior synonym of clavata: Smith, F. 1858b: 100.



  • Araújo, J.P.M., Evans, H.C., Kepler, R., Hughes, D.P. 2018. Zombie-ant fungi across continents: 15 new species and new combinations within Ophiocordyceps. I. Myrmecophilous hirsutelloid species. Studies in Mycology 90: 119–160 (DOI 10.1016/j.simyco.2017.12.002).
  • Breed, M. (2002). Allometry in the giant tropical ant, Paraponera clavata. Insectes Sociaux, 49: 125–128. doi: 10.1007/s00040-002-8290-2
  • Breed, M. & Bennett, B. (1985). Mass recruitment to nectar sources in Paraponera clavata: A field study. Insectes Sociaux, 32: 198–208. doi: 10.1007/BF02224233
  • Breed, M. & Harrison, J.F. (1988). Worker size, ovary development and division of labor in the giant tropical ant, Paraponera clavata (Hymenoptera: Formicidae). Journal of the Kansas Entomological Society 61: 285-290.
  • Brown, W. L., Jr. 1958g. Contributions toward a reclassification of the Formicidae. II. Tribe Ectatommini (Hymenoptera). Bull. Mus. Comp. Zool. 118: 173-362 (page 205, see also)
  • Fabricius, J. C. 1775. Systema entomologiae, sistens insectorum classes, ordines, genera, species adiectis synonymis, locis, descriptionibus, observationibus. Flensburgi et Lipsiae [= Flensburg and Leipzig]: Korte, 832 pp. (page 394, worker described)
  • Hermann, H. R.; Blum, M. S.; Wheeler, J. W.; Overal, W. L.; Schmidt, J. O.; Chao, J. 1984. Comparative anatomy and chemistry of the venom apparatus and mandibular glands in Dinoponera grandis (Guérin) and Paraponera clavata (F.) (Hymenoptera: Formicidae: Ponerinae). Ann. Entomol. Soc. Am. 77: 272-279 PDF
  • Latreille, P. A. 1802b. Histoire naturelle générale et particulière des Crustacés et des insectes. Tome 3. Familles naturelles des genres. Paris: F. Dufart, xii + 467 pp. (page 207, Senior synonym of aculeata, and material of the unavailable name spininoda referred here)
  • Lepeletier de Saint-Fargeau, A. 1835 [1836]. Histoire naturelle des insectes. Hyménoptères. Tome I. Paris: Roret, 547 pp. (page 189, worker, queen described)
  • Mayr, G. 1862. Myrmecologische Studien. Verh. K-K. Zool.-Bot. Ges. Wien 12: 649-776 (page 731, queen, male described)
  • Morrison, C. R. 2018. Predation of top predators: cane toad consumption of bullet ants in a Panamanian lowland wet forest. Journal of Tropical Ecology. 34:390-394. doi:10.1017/s0266467418000342
  • Peeters C (2017) Independent colony foundation in Paraponera clavata (Hymenoptera, Formicidae): First workers lay trophic eggs to feed queen’s larvae. Sociobiology 64: 417-422.
  • Sanjuan, T. I., A. E. Franco-Molano, R. M. Kepler, J. W. Spatafora, J. Tabima, A. M. Vasco-Palacios, and S. Restrepo. 2015. Five new species of entomopathogenic fungi from the Amazon and evolution of neotropical Ophiocordyceps. Fungal Biology. 119:901-916. doi:10.1016/j.funbio.2015.06.010
  • Shrestha B, Tanaka E, Hyun MW, Han JG, Kim CS, Jo JW, Han SK, Oh J, Sung JM, Sung GH. 2017. Mycosphere Essay 19. Cordyceps species parasitizing hymenopteran and hemipteran insects. Mycosphere 8(9): 1424–1442 (DOI 10.5943/mycosphere/8/9/8).
  • Smith, F. 1858a. Catalogue of hymenopterous insects in the collection of the British Museum. Part VI. Formicidae. London: British Museum, 216 pp. (page 101, male described; page 100, Combination in Paraponera, Senior synonym of tarsalis)
  • Wetterer, J. K. 1994. Attack by Paraponera clavata prevents herbivory by the leaf-cutting ant, Atta cephalotes. Biotropica. 26:462-465.
  • Wheeler, G. C.; Wheeler, J. 1952a. The ant larvae of the subfamily Ponerinae - Part I. Am. Midl. Nat. 48: 111-144 (page 117, larva described)