giant ants
A Bolivian woman died when vigilantes mistakenly thought she was a thief and strapped her to a tree full of fire ants AlexanderY/Flickr

A Bolivian woman has died after being strapped to a tree containing fire ants by vigilantes who wrongly suspected her of committing a robbery.

The 52-year-old victim had gone to the town of Caranavi, 100 miles northeast of her hometown in the capital city, La Paz, with her son, 28, and daughter, 22, on new year's eve.

Villagers targeted the woman after she ran to protect her son, who the mob mistakenly accused of being a car thief.

A struggle ensued that ultimately saw the entire family blindfolded and tied to a Palo Santo tree, home to colonies of Brazilian fie ant known for their painful bite, according to The Mirror.

Local reports suggest the trio were also beaten and burnt.

The family were rescued by authorities, but the mother died after being taken to hospital in a serious condition.

She had been bitten in the windpipe and could no longer breathe due to severe throat swelling. Her son and daughter are recovering from their injuries.

Local radio station Radio Municipal 96.9 posted a photograph on its Facebook page of the three blindfolded victims tied to the tree surrounded by locals, including children.

One man has been arrested but authorities believe more were involved in the incident.

Una mujer murió y otros dos (sus hijos) están hospitalizados tras ser amarrados al árbol de palo santo, el hecho ocurrió...

Posted by Radio Municipal Caranavi 96.9 FM on Sunday, January 1, 2017

The suspect appeared in court on New Year's Day and was remanded in custody.

Police chief Gunter Agudo said: "We managed to rescue all three people but one of them, the 52-year-old woman, was in a bad way and had to be taken to hospital. She died at 3:30 pm on New Year's Eve. Initially the investigation was opened as a probe into an attempted car theft, but now it has been changed to a murder and serious assault investigation."

According to the Metro, a man who claimed to be a nephew of the victim, Roberhtmar Aramayo, said: "Damned community Indians of Caranavi. My family is suffering the loss of my beloved aunt. I hope the courts clarify what's happened because they've left my cousins orphans."