Allergic reactions to stinging ants are an important cause of anaphylaxis in Australia. The proteinaceous venom can be fatal to humans.
Allergic reactions to the Jack Jumper ant (also known as the Jumper Ant, Hopper Ant) are a uniquely Australian problem, although other species such as Bulldog Ants ( Myrmecia pyriformis ) , the Green Ant of Queensland, and introduced South American Fire Ant cause allergic reactions.
Select an article on this page.
1: An encounter with “Bull Dog ants” in Melbourne 1852.
2: What is a Jack Jumper Ant? ( Myrmecia pilosula )
3: Analysis of the proteinaceous Venom in the sting.
4: Jumper ant venom can destroy cancer cells.
5: Distribution of the Jack jumper ant and their nests.
6: The venom of Jack Jumper Ants and Anaphylaxis.
7: First aid and Bush remedy for Jumper ant sting.
8: Jumper Ant allergy does not disappear quickly.
9: Inch Ant, Bull ant ( Myrmecia pyriformis ).
10: Bush remedy for Inch Ant, Bull ant sting.
11: Photograph of the Inch Ant stinger.
12: Jumper ant stings around Perth, Western Australia .
13: The Red Imported Fire Ant (Solenopsis invicta Buren)
A descriptive encounter with “Bull Dog ants” in Melbourne circa 1852.
" Insects, fleas, etc, are as plentiful as it is possible to be, and the ants,
of which there are several kinds, are a perfect nuisance.
The largest are called by the old colonists, "bull-dogs," and formidable creatures they are--luckily not very common, about an inch and a half long, black, or rusty-black, with a red tail.
They bite like a little crab. Ants of an inch long are quite common.
They do not -- like the English ones -- run scared away at the sight of a human being -- not a bit of it;
Australian ants have more PLUCK, and will turn and face you.
Nay, more, should you RETREAT, they will run after you with all the impudence imaginable.
Often when my organ of destructiveness has tempted me slightly to disturb with the end of my parasol one of the many ant-hills on the way from Melbourne to Richmond, I have been obliged, as soon as they discovered the perpetrator of the attack, to take to my heels and run away as if for my life. "
Source: " A Lady's Visit to the Gold Diggings of Australia in 1852-53 " by Mrs Charles (Ellen) Clacy 1853
" Around 1 in 300 people in Australia are susceptible to severe allergic reactions
to stinging insects, and some will die. "
What is a Jack Jumper Ant?
Most Australian native stinging ants are from the
genus Myrmecia a primitive group of ants found only in Australia and one other species ( Myrmecia apicalis ) can be found in New Calendonia.
There are 89 species within this group.
This group is broadly subdivided into “Jumper ants” and “Bull Dog ants”.
Bull Dog ants are large, around 15-25 mm long, whereas Jumper ants are generally 10 to 15 mm long and often display jerky, jumping movements, and when disturbed they move forward by a series of jumps of up to 50 mm each jump.
Jumper Ants are also known as “Hopper Ants” or “Skipper Ants” in South Australia. The Jumper Ant most frequently associated with allergic reactions is commonly known as the “Jack Jumper Ant” , “Jack Jumper” or “Jumping Jack”.
Jack Jumpers have a black body and orange/brown jaws/pincers and limbs.
Jumper ants sting , rather than bite , like bees and wasps, they grasp the victim in their jaws, then bend and sting them. The sting is in
They are aggressive, typically walk with a hopping motion, and can sometimes “jump” from surrounding vegetation.
Compounds found: Histamine, dopamine, norepinephrine, amino acids, oligopeptides, phospholipids, carbohydrates, melittin, apamin, mast cell degranulating peptide, secapin, tertiapin, protease inhibitor, procamine A & B, phospholipase A & B, hyaluronidases, acid phosphomonoesterase, alpha-D-glucosidase
" The immunotoxin, which incorporates a major component from the venom of the jumper ant Myrmecia pilosula is four times more potent than an immunotoxin derived from bee venom... "
" In a development that promises a new approach to cancer therapy, UTS researchers have developed a chemical "warhead" — known as an immunotoxin — that effectively targets malignant cells with a new toxin found in an Australian ant.
Professor Robert Raison of the Cell and Molecular Biology Department describes the ant toxin and the vehicle for delivering it as "a guided missile".
In the earlier research, Professor Raison’s team isolated melittin, a toxic protein in bee venom. They fused the gene encoding the toxic protein with the gene encoding the binding site of an antibody molecule in order to produce a new protein with strong anti-cancer properties, especially effective against the human leukaemia known as multiple myeloma.
He believes the team’s current research involving the highly potent toxin from the venom of the jumper ant and its efficient delivery by means of an antibody mechanism to specific cancer sites in the body represents a new approach in the development of immunotoxins for cancer chemotherapy.
While the aim of developing a potent and site-specific "magic bullet" with minimal side effects has motivated cancer researchers throughout the world, Australia’s humble jumper ant might yet provide UTS with a winner in the international cancer research stakes. "
The Jack jumper ant has a widespread distribution
These ants are found in Tasmania, Victoria, The ACT, the Snowy Mountains of New South Wales and coastal New South Wales, the Adelaide Hills
in South Australia, and with some pockets reported in the Blue Mountains, some parts of Western Australia and unconfirmed sightings in Queensland. It is likely that there are other (as yet
undescribed) habitats as well, and that observations relate to interactions between ant colonies and human habitats.
Map Source and data verification. (1)
A study of the epidemiology of allergy to jack jumper ant stings jack jumper ant venom allergy is a major problem in Tasmania, affecting 2.7% of the population, with 1% of the population having suffered a life-threatening reaction when stung.
A staggering 12% of the Tasmanian population is stung by jack jumpers every year, and the risks of developing jack jumper venom allergy and having a life-threatening reaction both increase almost three-fold with age>35 years. During the team’s study follow-up period, people with a history of allergic reactions had a 70% risk of having a further reaction if they received another sting – an exceptionally high figure (compared with 25-50% risks quoted for wasp stings.(2)
" Currently, around 12,000 Tasmanians and an estimated 60,000 Australians are known to suffer a serious allergy to Jack Jumper Ant stings. Of these, around 4000 Tasmanians are highly allergic, having experienced the condition known as anaphylaxis which puts them at a significant risk of death. " (3)
Although established nests can form massive mounds, they are often difficult to find, and may be present
under rock, with the entrance surrounded by a pile of fine gravel. Typically, a couple of sentry ants are present at the entrance.
The ants are aggressive, and often hunt alone. They will stray away from the nest, and at times find their way into people's houses and kitchens. It is very difficult to avoid being stung by jumper ant in endemic areas, when nests are located close to human inhabitants.
Allergic reactions may occur to ant stings
There are different types of allergic reactions to stinging insects. The stings of jumper ants, like those of bees and wasps, are very
Local swelling is very common and large local swellings can also occur, lasting a few days at a time.
The most serious reactions are known as generalised allergic reactions, of which the most severe is called anaphylaxis.
Exaggerated reaction of an organism to a foreign protein or other substance.
Anaphylaxis occurs after exposure to an allergen (such as food, insect sting or medicine), to which a person is already extremely sensitive.
It results in potentially life-threatening symptoms, including:
o Difficulty/noisy breathing
o Swelling of tongue
o Swelling/tightness in throat
o Difficulty talking and/or hoarse voice
o Wheeze or persistent cough
o Chest tightness
o Abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting
o Confusion, loss of consciousness and/or collapse
o Pale and floppy (in young children)
In some cases, anaphylaxis is preceded by less dangerous allergic symptoms, eg:
o Swelling of face, lips and eyes
o Congestion and watering of the nose and eyes
o Hives or welts on the skin
o Headaches, anxiety, flushing
For Australian stinging ants:
Jumping ants / jack jumper ant, (Myrmecia pilosula), Bull or Bulldog Ant (Myrmecia pyriformis), Green-head Ant (Rhytidopenera metallica) * Blue Ant " (Diamma bicolor) (this is actually a type of wasp) and other ants mentioned in this article.
If you have previously had a serious allergic or anaphylactic reaction to an ant sting:
o You should consult your doctor about the need for you to carry adrenaline for use in the event of an ant sting.
o If you have received an ant sting (7) inside the mouth or throat:
o Ring 000 for an ambulance.
If you have been stung by an ant and have previously had a serious allergic or anaphylactic reaction to an ant sting you should follow these steps:
o Ring 000 for an ambulance
o Administer your adrenaline if you have been instructed to use it in this situation
o Avoid movement as much as possible
o Wait for the ambulance
If you have been stung by an ant and have NOT previously had a serious reaction to an ant sting you should follow these steps:
o Wash the stung area with soap and water
o Apply a cold pack to the area to relieve pain and swelling
o If there is persistent or severe swelling and/or itching, take antihistamine tablets for 1-3 days
o Antihistamines are available from pharmacies without a prescription. The pharmacist will be able to recommend one suitable for you.
o Even if you have never been stung by an ant before, watch for the following symptoms, they may indicate a serious allergic or anaphylactic reaction, which requires urgent medical attention:
o red blotches on the skin or an itchy rash over the body
o swelling in parts of the body away from the stung area, especially the lips and around the eyes
o feeling faint, light-headed or dizzy
o breathing difficulties such as wheeze or shortness of breath
o chest tightness.
Source: This information was provided courtesy of the Austin Hospital. Melbourne Australia. Available at the Austin Health website http://austin.org.au/
(7) Note: "bite" has been used by the source and was replaced with sting/stung by the author.
Bush remedy for Jumper ant sting
When there are no signs of allergic symptoms.
" The young tips of bracken fern rubbed on a jumper ant sting is a useful bush remedy that was discovered and used by Australian Aborigines. ".
This bush remedy may alleviate the local pain that may be experienced when an ant sting has occurred.
Source: Newsletter of Manly Council’s Bushland Reserves Summer 2003 — Manly’s Bushland News 3
Anaphylaxis to Jumper Ant stings is not rare
In areas where jumper ants are common, population surveys have shown that between 2 and 3 per cent of people have had generalised allergic reactions, and in around half of these people the reactions can be life-threatening.
Deaths from jumper ant stings have occurred in Australia, with several recorded cases in recent years ( including one in the Macedon Ranges(4) ).
Since allergy as a cause of death can be difficult to detect at post mortem , it is conceivable that deaths due to sting allergy are under-reported.
Jumper Ant allergy does not disappear quickly.
Follow-up studies have shown that around 70 per cent of people with jumper ant allergy, will have another allergic reaction if re-stung.
This sensitivity to repeat stings appears to persist for many years.
Patients with allergic reactions to jumper ants, as with other allergies, need to avoid the trigger (where possible), carry emergency medication (adrenaline/EpiPen) and know what to do if accidental exposure occurs.
Wearing a MedicAlert (or similar) bracelet may provide additional information to attending doctors or ambulance officers.
Avoiding Jumper ants
Jumper ants are difficult to avoid in endemic areas, as they often stray long distances from the nests.
Destroying nearby nests has been proposed to reduce the risk of accidental stings, but may not prevent stings from nests located further away.
Wearing heavy clothing such as boots and gloves when in the bush or when gardening seems sensible, but the ants can still sting through heavy clothing. Whether moving from endemic areas to another area may help is uncertain.
Reference: Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy.
ASCIA May 2005 www.allergy.org.au
Inch Ant, Bull ant ( Myrmecia pyriformis )
body length about 25 mm.
Inch or Bulldog Ants, have a sting in their abdomen/tail attached to a
venom gland. Stings can be quite painful and may result
in allergic reactions, up to and including anaphylaxis.
Secondary infection, though uncommon, may occur.
Honeybees leave their sting in the wound, but Wasps
and Ants do not, so may sting more than once.
– there are at least four to five different species including M. forficata (found in Tasmania, Victoria, NSW), M. gratiosa (Perth WA) and
M. pyriformis (found in Victoria, South Australia and NSW).
Bull Ant, Inch Ant sting Remedy.
Where there are no signs of Anaphylaxis present the painful reaction to the sting can be alleviated by using a natural remedy. If you have a pigface groundcover " Carpobrotus glaucescens also known as Pigface or Angular Pigface which is a member of the Family Aizoaceae. " growing nearby simply take a couple of leaves and squeeze the juice from the leaves on the stung area. Rub in gently and you will notice an almost immediate pain relief.
This natural remedy is only good if you apply it almost immediately.
There are also at least two other species of jumper ants known to cause anaphylaxis in Western Australia, including M. ludlowi.
A study of bull dog ant and jumper ant stings around Perth, Western Australia has found that one particular bulldog ant, Myrmecia gratiosa (5), is responsible for most cases of life-threatening allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) to ant sting. Around Perth, Myrmecia gratiosa was the only species of stinging ant found around the locations where reactions had occurred, even though around 10 different species are known to be found in the region. Venom immunotherapy (desensitization) has been shown to be highly effective.(6)
Other types of ants that can cause an anaphylactic reaction include greenhead ants – Rhytidoponera metallica – and the imported fire ant, Solenopsis invicta Buren, both found in Queensland.
The Red Imported Fire Ant (Solenopsis invicta Buren)
The invasive Red Imported Fire Ant (Solenopsis invicta Buren) is well established at two locations in the Brisbane area located in Queensland Australia.
The potential for anaphylactic events in Australia due to the Fire ant S. invicta will be greater than for native ants because of its unusual venom, its habit of forming super colonies in grassy areas, and its aggressive group territorial defence, which can result in multiple stings.
The venom of S. invicta is unusual, being composed largely of alkaloids, but also including four different proteins. These proteins, as well as the non-protein components of the venom, are each individually capable of inducing anaphylaxis.
The polygynous form of S. invicta often completely dominates areas where it has invaded, forming interconnected super colonies. Coupled with grassy areas as its preferred habitat, the probability of contact with humans is high.
Aggressive pheromone-driven group defence of territory and the colony results in a high probability of multiple stings.Reference: The Medical Journal of Australia http://www.mja.com.au/public/issues/176_11_030602/sol10016_fm.html#CACHBCGF"
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Source for cited articles and reference material:
(1) Map Source and map courtesy of: Australian Venom Research Unit, The University of Melbourne Australia
http://www.avru.org/general/general_jumper.html Accessed: 20th September 2010
(2) Source: Media Release 8 February 2006 NEW RESEARCH INTO BULL DOG ANT DANGER Royal Hobart Hospital Research Foundation Annual Report 2007 Accessed 24th Sep 2009
(3) Source: The fatal allergy Maria Fletcher Yarlington, Tasmania 12.08.05 http://tasmaniatimes.com
(4) Source: Uncorroborated statements from several local residents of one suspected jumper ant envenoming fatality in Monegeeta in the 1980´s
(5) Myrmecia gratiosa Distribution data courtesy: CSIRO, 2010. Ants Down Under, viewed 17 January 2010,
Reference: WCH Clinical Toxicology Resources The University of Adelaide Australia
Reference: Newsroom, University of Technology, Sydney http://www.newsroom.uts.edu.au/ 7 May 2001
Reference: Newsletter of Manly Council’s Bushland Reserves Summer 2003 — Manly’s Bushland News 3
Reference: Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy. ASCIA May 2005 www.allergy.org.au
Reference: NSW HEALTH Snakebite and Spiderbite Clinical Management Guidelines
Reference: Stinging insect allergy / anaphylaxis http://www.allergycapital.com.au/Pages/GPSting.html
Reference: The Medical Journal of Australia http://www.mja.com.au/public/issues/176_11_030602/sol10016_fm.html#CACHBCGF"
Reference: The Austin Hospital. Melbourne Australia. website http://austin.org.au/
Reference: Sutherland SK, Sutherland J. Venomous creatures of Australia: a field guide with notes on first aid. Oxford University Press: Melbourne; 1999.
Reference: Sutherland SK, Hawdon GM, Winkel KD. First aid for snake bite in Australia: with notes on first aid for bites and stings by other Australian venomous creatures. The Australian Venom Research Unit: Parkville.
Reference: CSIRO, 2010. Ants Down Under, viewed 17 January 2010,
Reference: Elliot, W.R. & Jones, D.L. (1982) Encyclopedia of Australian Plants Suitable for Cultivation, Vol 2 . pg: 466. Lothian Publishing Company, Melbourne, Sydney, Auckland.