Anaphylactic reactions to the Jack Jumper Ant

16/02/02

With colleagues at Royal Hobart Hospital, particularly Dr Simon Brown, Director of the Emergency Dept., we are researching anaphylactic reactions to the Jack Jumper Ant (Myrmecia pilosula) an Australian native ant that accounts for about one quarter of all presentations with anaphylaxis (life threatening allergic reactions) to the Royal Hobart Hospital and is also an important cause of such reactions in southern Victoria, the Adelaide Hills and the bush areas around Sydney and Canberra. My Tasmanian colleagues have observed that echidnas prey on the nests of these stinging ants. It appears a reasonable hypothesis, yet to be proven, that expansion of this ant population beyond its limits in a balanced ecosystem may have occured because of reduced numbers and restricted movement of its predator, the echidna. Other small native mammals may also be involved as predators on the Myrmecia. If this hypothesis is correct, the major clinical problems and several human deaths in areas of Myrmecia pilosula prevalence might be regarded as an ecologically induced human health problem.

Bob Heddle, Flinders Medical Centre