North Carolina

Ouch! Watch this microscopic view of ants releasing their venom

Tiny ants can have a big bite, and a newly released video offers insight into the insects’ power.

The footage shows ants push their stingers through wax film and repeatedly release their venom.

Adrian Smith, who works with the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh, says it may have been the first time the microscopic process was caught on video.

“I think I know why this hasn’t been filmed before,” he said Monday on his Ant Lab channel on YouTube. “Ant stingers and the parts of them that are moving are really tiny and really fast.”

So, Smith slowed down the footage to help people glimpse the insect, which can release more than a dozen drops of venom in one second, he said on Ant Lab.

He also zoomed in — a lot — to see the stingers, which in harvester ants are “smaller than the width of a human hair,” according to the video, which captures Florida harvester and trap-jaw ants in action.

And Smith ended up seeing ants move back and forth when they sting, and the speed helps determine “whether or not an ant catches its prey or avoids becoming prey itself,” he says.

“Having an effective, and fast, venom delivery system is super important for a lot of ant species,” he wrote on Twitter. “It’s hard to sting things that don’t want to be stung.”

To help people visualize that, he says he captured a “slow-motion scene of a harvester ant & mealworm rodeo,” which shows the ant trying to get its chance to sting the bigger animal.

Smith says he created the new video after filming a fire ant near his skin and wanted to learn more. Stings from that species can cause “a burning sensation” and produce red bumps, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says.

One of the ants Smith filmed, the Florida harvester ant, “is not considered an aggressive ant, but its venomous sting is very painful,” Orkin says.