Ant venoms contain vertebrate-selective pain-causing sodium channel toxins
© Hodroj Houssein/500Px Plus/Getty Images
Some ants employ powerful neurotoxins to deliver painful stings to mammals.
You don’t want to be bitten by a South American bullet ant — one bite can cause intense pain and uncontrollable trembling that can endure for up to 12 hours. Stings from other ant species can also cause intense, long-lasting pain.
But the diminutive size of ants has made it difficult to collect and analyse their venom.
A team led by researchers from the University of Queensland in Australia has now found that three species of ants contain peptide toxins that cause pain through binding to sodium channels in the neurons of mammals.
These toxins cause the sodium channels to remain open, which results in a long lasting sting.
The toxins seem to have been developed to protect ant colonies from mammalian predators.
- Nature Communications 14, 2977 (2023). doi: 10.1038/s41467-023-38839-1