Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Meeting a bull ant on the beach

If you've ever had a bull ant climb up an inside leg of your jeans, I'm sure you'll agree it can be an agonising experience. Naturally the removal of your jeans is top priority, regardless of amused spectators. And then soothing the pain becomes a matter of urgency as well.

Almost everyone is familiar with bull ants, also called bulldog ants because once they grab you you with their nippers it's as if their powerful jaws lock like the jaws of a bulldog. Probably the world's largest ant (up to 20 mm long), and one of the most primitive living ants on Earth, bull ants live almost entirely within Australia, with about 60 species making up the group.

Today I met a lone bull ant on the beach. The ant wasn't at all sure it wanted to meet me, but meet me it did, where gentle waves washed up on to the sand. My guess is it was foraging for food amongst the flotsam washed ashore, or perhaps it was after some salt? It became very agitated when I stepped up close, waving its nippers about and telling me in no uncertain terms about the poison it would inject if I came any closer. With memories going back to when I was a five-year-old and was bitten by a bull ant on the foot, and then in my 30s having a bull ant run up the inside of my jeans and bite me repeatedly, I backed off. I gave the bull ant the space it needed and continued on my way, wondering why it had made its way down to the sea.

The following is a unique outback remedy used by Australian bushman. This first aid treatment for a gash uses a bull ant to bite into the flesh, with its nippers on either side of the wound. The bushman then cuts off the ant's head, leaving the nippers to hold together the wound until healed!

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