In the jungles of Ecuador there exist enormous ants called congas. Their scientific name is Paraponera clavata, but I prefer to call them Giant Mutant Killer Jungle Ants.
These insects put the ant in giant. Not only are they freakishly large—about an inch long—but also very dangerous.
Here’s an extract from Wikipedia:
Paraponera is a genus of ant consisting of a single species, commonly known as the lesser giant hunting ant, conga ant, or bullet ant (Paraponera clavata), named on account of its powerful and potent sting, which is said to be as painful as being shot with a bullet. It inhabits humid lowland rainforests from Nicaragua south to Paraguay. The bullet ant is called “Hormiga Veinticuatro” or “24 (hour) ant” by the locals, referring to the 24 hours of pain that follow being stung.
My old man tells me congas bite their victims to secure a firm hold before stinging, and their sting can put a strong man in bed with a fever for as much as a few days.
To wit: nasty little beasts, those congas.
There’s a river in Ecuador called Río Baba: a ribbon of crystal-clear water that winds its way through the jungle. Translated from Spanish, Río Baba means Drool River. Why anyone would give it such a nasty name, I can’t fathom. At the age of nine or ten, I was baptized in this river of tranquil beauty and dubious name.
Río Baba was also the setting of my epic escape from the Giant Mutant Killer Jungle Ant.
Santo Domingo de los Colorados, the town in which I spent much of my childhood, is just a few hours away from Río Baba. My family and I sometimes visited the river for picnics, camping trips and church events.
The river runs beneath a high, steep bank, at the top of which stands a tree with spreading branches. At that point the water is only three or four feet deep. I used to wade near the riverbank, pretending to be a jungle explorer or picking up rocks and throwing them.
On one memorable occasion, as I was playing in the clear water beneath the tree, I felt a prickling on my right shoulder. I turned my head and found myself nose-to-nose with a conga.
At the time, oblivious to the ant’s sinister intent, I brushed it off my shoulder, picked it up from the surface of the water with a leaf and carried it to my old man for his inspection.
I don’t remember whether he swatted the leaf out of my hand or merely commanded me to drop it. Either way, the leaf fell to the ground—the conga holding on for dear life—and I was spared a fate worse than death.
Well, worse than death is a bit melodramatic. Being stung would have been painful, but not as bad as, say, reading Twilight cover to cover.
My old man put the conga in an empty soda bottle and later reprimanded me sternly when I tried to get a close look at it. When we got home, he drowned the ant in alcohol and pinned it to a piece of foam.
The conga was eventually given away to some missionary colleagues, and I was left with only the memory of my dangerous encounter with the Giant Mutant Killer Jungle Ant.
I was spared the pain of a conga sting. However, I did read Twilight a couple of years ago, so I guess the two experiences sort of cancel each other out.