Picture this: You’re mowing the grass or working in the garden when suddenly you feel like your feet and ankles are being viciously attacked. The next thing you know, you’re violently slapping and swiping at the tiny offenders. Then you see: You’ve been bitten by fire ants.
But were you bitten or stung? And are fire ants poisonous? Find out the answers to these questions and more.
So, is all that pain caused from biting or stinging? Both, actually. When you make your way into a fire ant hill, hopefully by accident, you present a threat to the colony’s home. Naturally, the ants are going to defend themselves. The female worker ants bite you before they start stinging, sinking their mandibles into your skin so that they get a good grip on you. Then they sting you multiple times as they move around in a circle.
While it's important to know how to help get rid of fire ants, here’s what you need to know to identify, help prevent and treat fire ant stings or bites.
How can I identify fire ants?
Worker fire ants are the only kind of fire ants that sting. Red imported fire ant workers are 1/8- to 1/4-inch long, reddish-brown and black. They have two nodes and 10-segmented antennae with a two-segmented club. Once you identify the fire ant or another type of ant that’s invading your home or yard, you can take the proper steps to help get rid of them.
Why do fire ants sting?
Fire ants sting to defend their mounds (nests) from invaders. When their mound is disturbed, many fire ants rush outside and climb on whatever is disturbing the mound. They firmly grasp skin with their jaws and then sting and inject the venom.
How do I identify fire ant stings or bites?
To identify fire ant stings, look for these symptoms:
- Pain (intense burning sensation), redness, itching and swelling at the site of the fire ant sting.
- A painful raised bump that becomes a pus-filled blister (pustule) in 6 to 24 hours and lasts for up to 10 days. The pustules may become infected.
Fire ants cause severe, life-threatening reactions in people who are allergic to them. Texas A&M says to watch for these symptoms of a severe allergic reaction:
- Low blood pressure
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
A severe allergic reaction can lead to death. If you experience symptoms of an allergic reaction, seek immediate medical attention.
What treatment do I need for a fire ant bite?
The CDC lays out a few steps for how to treat fire ant bites or stings:
- Rub the ants off skin briskly using your sleeve or gloved hand (they will attach to your skin with their jaws).
- Antihistamines, pain relievers and cold packs can help relieve the discomfort.
- Seek emergency medical treatment immediately if you experience chest pain, nausea, severe sweating, loss of breath, serious swelling or slurred speech.
What if my pet is stung by fire ants?
If your dog, cat or other pet gets a fire ant sting, move it away from the area to help prevent further bites. Brush the fire ants off your dog or cat with downward strokes, using your sleeve, a towel or gloves. Do NOT use water to remove fire ants. Water makes the fire ants clamp down more firmly. The face, paws, legs and belly are most vulnerable to fire ant stings, so start removing the ants there. If your pet has been stung, or you think it has been stung, take it to a veterinarian.
Be sure to observe your pet for these symptoms of allergic reaction:
- Difficulty walking
- Swelling (often involving the face and/or paws)
- Seizures or tremors
- Loss of consciousness
- Refusal to eat and/or drink
How can I help avoid fire ant stings?The best way to help prevent fire ant stings is to pay attention to your surroundings. People are likely to get stung when they are:
- Posing for photographs
- Picking up food off the ground
- Sleeping on the ground (even in a tent or sleeping bag)
- Sitting around a campfire
To help avoid fire ant bites or stings:
- Don’t disturb or stand on or near a fire ant mound.
- Be very careful where you park a wheelchair or stroller, and don’t put babies or baby carriers on the ground for very long.
- Wear boots or tuck your pant legs into your socks to protect your legs.
- Use insect repellent (DEET or Picaridin) on your shoes and clothes.
- Control ants where they occur in your yard.
By knowing how to identify fire ants and their stings, you can take steps to help protect your family from painful, potentially dangerous stings. If you prefer professional help controling these ants, contact Terminix today.