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Slow-motion video reveals how ants deliver their painful venom

Painful encounters with ants don’t stem from their bite; it’s their venom-delivering stingers. Now, in a video posted online this week, a researcher has recorded the first ever close-up look at how these stingers work.

Ant stingers are slimmer than the width of a human hair. After biting down on their target to secure themselves, the insects swing their abdomens forward to get their stingers in place. Not all species have stingers (some spray toxic acid), but the feature—passed down from an ancient wasp ancestor—is more common than not.

By laying out a thin wax film for ants to puncture with their stingers, Adrian Smith, a biologist at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh, was able to capture the insects’ microscopic movements at speeds faster than the blink of an eye. The video above features—in order—the trap-jaw ant (Odontomachus ruginodis) and the Florida harvester ant (Pogonomyrmex badius).

The recording reveals ants can deliver 13 drops of venom per second, an important feature considering they may only have a moment to sting their prey or predators.