Fire Ant Bites and Stings

Fire Ant Bite

The red imported fire ant was brought to the United States from Brazil in the 1930s and has spread relatively unchecked throughout the southeastern region of the country, appearing as far west as California. Imported red fire ants dwell in large numbers and react aggressively to combat threats to their colonies. Red fire ants are generally omnivorous, feeding on proteins, honeydew, seeds and most foods found in homes. A red fire ant will secure itself to its prey with a pair of clamplike mandibles. Once secured, the ant will use its abdominal stinger to inject alkaloid venom into the victim. The ant can deliver multiple stings, pivoting in a circle until it is brushed off or until its victim dies.

How To Identify The Bite/Sting
The bite of a red fire ant produces a burning or stinging sensation. Stings first manifest as red welts. Fire ant stings are identified by the sting’s appearance and the ant’s aggressive efforts to come from their above-ground nest in huge numbers to sting. Each ant bites and then repeatedly stings if not removed. If the ant stings often enough, multiple stings may show up in a small, semi-circular pattern. Fire ant stings appear as a reddish lump on the skin that in time becomes a small blister. The symptoms of fire ant stings may vary depending upon the sensitivity of the person and the number of times they are stung.

Symptoms Of Stings
Most people develop itchy bumps that may appear like localized hives or single lumps at sting sites. Bumps usually disappear in about an hour, and small blisters may appear within four hours of the initial reaction. About a day after a bite, blisters normally become filled with a pus-like substance. When healed, the blistered lesions may leave scars.

A more extensive localized reaction may occur which involves swelling that extends beyond the sting site. For example, a single sting on the forearm could cause swelling across the entire arm. This condition may exist for two to three days.
Some very sensitive persons may develop much more serious allergic symptoms that may include:

  • Areas other than sting sites may itch and swell
  • Vomiting, stomach cramping, intense nausea, and diarrhea
  • Tightness in the chest and difficulty in breathing
  • Hoarseness or swelling of the tongue or throat, or difficulty swallowing

Even more severe, life-threatening reactions may occur when anaphylaxis, a severe, whole-body allergic reaction, arises. Anaphylaxis reactions can begin within minutes after the sting(s) and involve dizziness, a drop in blood pressure, unconsciousness or cardiac arrest. It is always best to seek the advice and care of a physician for treatment of fire ant stings and bites.

Why Do They Bite And Sting?
Fire ants bite the skin and hold on until the ant’s stinger injects the venom. The bite may be unnoticed because it is overshadowed by the painful intensity of the sting. Fire ants sting as a defensive measure to protect their colony and to capture prey.

Risks Associated With Infections
If no treatment is administered, the red bumps will turn into white pustules, which carry a risk of infection. If infected, they can leave scars. Risks exist for secondary bacterial infection of fire ant stings if the pustule is scratched or broken open or the sting sites are not kept clean.

How To Identify Stings On Pets
Removing pets from the area where stinging occurs is very important. Fire ant stings can be identified by the numerous small, red bumps that develop on the parts of the animal with little or no hair – eyes, ears and belly. Sometimes fire ants will sting the eyes, as well.

Fire Ant Bite Treatment
Potential first aid for fire ant bites includes over-the-counter products for itching or pain and cold compresses. If a fire ant sting victim experiences allergic symptoms, such as headaches, nausea or dizziness, or difficulty breathing, professional medical treatment should be sought immediately.

In the event that fire ants are present on your property,  it is advised that you contact a local pest control professional to remove the threat of future attacks.