Fire ants can spoil a fun-filled afternoon

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Red imported ant

Have you or your kids ever been victims to a mob of angry fire ants? Their bites, or more accurately, their stings can cause intense pain. The stings typically hurt for only a few minutes, only to be followed by skin irritation for several days. For most people, the stings are mere inconveniences, but people who are allergic to the fire ant venom might have anaphylaxis symptoms after a single sting. This could quickly develop into a life-threatening condition.

Fire ants, head
Fire ants don’t bite, they sting

What you should know about fire ants

Although there are about 200 species of fire ants worldwide, we see only two — mostly in the southeast. They are known as the red imported fire ant and the black imported fire ant. Both types are about half-an-inch long. However, the mounds of the black fire ants are much larger than the 18-inch wide mounds of the red fire ants. The mounds of the black ants can be several feet high.

Black imported ants


The stings of black and red ants

Unlike other stinging insects, both types of fire ants can sting multiple times. If you or your child step onto a nest, hundreds of them can attack your foot and leg, and they will keep on stinging until you move away and no longer pose a threat. Their victims are typically gardeners, pets and children. They sting the feet and legs of the subject that threatens the mound unless a child or dog sits on the ant mound.

Look out for fire ant mounds in garden beds, grass, lawns and driveways. They typically build their mounds near fruits and vegetables, although they also feast on small animals. Both species of fire ants will aggressively defend their mounds by dishing out stings to stun whoever is the threat. Large groups of fire ants can attack en masse to overcome animals like box turtles.

Fire ants

Symptoms of stings by fire ants

Fire ant venom could cause insignificant skin irritations. However, because they often attack in groups, stings can be in the form of clusters of pimple-like, pus-filled blisters. The blisters form within minutes after the stings. The victim’s first experience is usually intense burning or pinching pain only minutes before the burning and itching reaction appears on the skin. Although the itching may get worse during the first few days, it could heal without any treatment.

Fire ants, stings
Pus-filled pimple-like stings

Look out for allergic reactions

The blisters that form after fire ant stings are already allergic reactions, but it is good to look for severe reactions. When the areas around the stings burn and swell along with the itching, it may indicate danger. If anaphylaxis develops, it could be life-threatening.

Breathing problems and swelling of the throat and tongue might be the first indications of severe allergic reactions. Furthermore, the person may experience confusion and dizziness and might even lose consciousness.

Recent testing of the venom of fire ants indicated that it might contain a poison that affects the victim’s nervous system. These tests were done after reports of victims with large numbers of stings who experienced hallucinations.

The bottom line

Watch your step and teach your kids to do the same.

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