Ants are a diverse group of insects of the order Hymenoptera. This order also contains the families of bees and wasps. With over 12,000 species in the ant family, they boast an array of defense mechanisms and abilities. Ants are often applauded for their industrious and hardworking nature. They are organized into well-organized colonies and each worker ant labors away to defend and provide for the colony. Some species of ants can house millions of ants in a colony.
Many ant species come into conflict with humans because of their acute sense of smell and their intense drive to bring back food to the colony. Ants enter our homes, cars, backpacks, and recreational vehicles in search of food and stay for the often plentiful supply. Ants sense of smell is legendary in the animal kingdom. This super-power allows ants to locate food sources inside our homes, avoid some chemicals used in pest control applications, and communicate with their colony. Scientists are even testing whether ants can smell cancer cells. When foraging for food, most ant species leave a pheromone trail to avoid checking the same location twice and to alert their companions where they have found food. Most ants enjoy sweet nectar, but many ant species will eat meat, oils, and fats too. It’s no wonder our homes are a gold mine for ants!
Ants are important to our ecosystem as they aerate the soil, disperse seeds, and some species of ants prey on other insect pests. However, they undoubtedly are not welcome in our homes, but what about the yard? Even in the yard some ant species can cause pain and discomfort when they bite and sting us. Ants do not usually bite unless their homes/nests are threatened; therefore it is exceedingly rare for a foraging ant to bite. Many common ant species are not considered pests because of their tendency to inflict painful bites. Quite the opposite; what people commonly call sugar ants or black ants rarely bite or sting people.
The main offenders when talking about ant bites is the dreaded fire ant and to a lesser extent harvester ants.
First, lets clarify that what most people mean when they say “ant bite”. An ant bite is actually a sting. Yes, ants can bite with their mandibles (teeth), but even for larger ants such as carpenter ants, this is no more than a minor pinch. What we are really concerned about when we discuss “ant bites” are the few species such as fire ants that have a painful sting. Fire ants will grab on with their mandibles to gain leverage and then jab you with their stinger. At first glance, it does appear they are biting you, but the pain comes from the sting that is occurring at the same time.
Reactions to ant bites range depending upon the species of ant that bit you, your individual reaction to the bite, and how many times you were bit. Some ants, like the common odorous house ant, do not even have a stinger, and their mouthparts are so small a bite will have little to no effect. However, if you step barefooted into a fire ant mound, you will sustain many painful bites and stings. For purposes of this description of what ant bites look like, I will give a range of ant bite appearances.
Most ant bites cause momentary pain and discomfort and are not considered a serious medical matter. Usually, we swat the ant off our arm or leg and go on about our day. The discomfort from most ant bites can be treated with over-the-counter anti-itch cream. However, in cases where a child or an immune compromised person is stung multiple times, the venom can cause a severe systemic reaction. Always assess the severity of the ant bite and seek medical attention if there is any serious concern.
If you are bit by a single ant that drops from a tree, you will feel an initial sharp stab of pain that often goes away within minutes to hours. The site of the ant bite may swell and turn red. Frequently an ant bite changes from red to a small white fluid filled pustule. This pustule usually is surrounded by redness and it usually itches. This white blister looks like a pimple or a white head, and it may last for a day or two before it recedes. This type of local reaction to an ant bite can usually be treated with a simple first aid kit and a hug and kiss from mamma.
On the other extreme is a person who has stepped into an angry fire ant mound and been both bit and stung by thousands of insects seeking to destroy the invader. These ant bites will look much the same as described above, but much more prevalent. In addition to pustules and blisters across your feet, legs, arms, and legs, a severe attack will usually exhibit more generalized swelling and redness. As the venom makes its way through your system, some people may experience allergic reactions.
Symptoms of an allergic reaction to ant bites are:
Hives across your body
Swelling on areas that were not bit by ants
Tightness in your chest or difficulty breathing
Abdominal pain, nausea, or vomiting
Ant bites or stings rarely cause severe physical reactions, usually redness and swelling around the bite mark, and an itchy sensation that may last a few days.
The good news with ant bites, is the initial bite is almost always felt; therefore identifying the source of a bite is rarely an issue. Whether it was a single ant that fell onto your lawn chair from the shade tree above, or a hoard of venomous fire ants, you’ll feel the bite and look down quickly to brush off the attack. Ant bite symptoms range based upon the type of ant, and the severity of the attack, but most people experience similar symptoms.
Normal mild symptoms of an ant bite include:
Redness at the site of the ant bite
Swelling at the site of the ant bite
Sharp stabbing pain at the time of the ant bite, followed by less severe pain at the bite site
Itchy sensation at the bite site
Blister or white pustule usually forms at the location of the ant bite
The ant venom can cause localized cell death. Our immune system forms these blister-like pustules as it cleans up the cell debris. As itchy as they are, it is important to resist the urge to scratch these pimple-like ant bites. Scratching can cause these ant bite blisters to pop prematurely. This opens your body up to the risk of infection or cellulitis which complicates your medical condition.
Swelling is a predominant feature of an ant bite. In a minor or local reaction, the swelling is limited to the site bite. Always monitor the swelling after an ant bite. If areas that were not bit by ants begin to swell, this may mean an allergic reaction. While anaphylaxis is a rare symptom of ant bites, it is possible.
Redness to the site of the ant bite is also to be expected. Even after the initial bite blisters and turns white, redness directly surrounding this pustule is normal. However, hives, or itchy red raised welts or spots, on areas that were not bit by ants may indicate a more severe reaction. In addition, severe redness or a red streak through a skin break may be a symptom of a skin infection. It is especially difficult for young children to avoid scratching at itchy ant bites. However, breaking the skin by scratching ant bites may allow bacteria to enter the body and an infection to set in. Especially in cases of multiple ant bites, closely monitor for infection or cellulitis.
Symptoms of an infected ant bite may include:
Unusual pain and tenderness that emanates outward from the site of the bite
Before discussing the possibility of an allergic reaction to ant bites, it is helpful to know whether ants bite or whether they sting. Colloquially, almost everyone refers to any offense committed by an ant as an ant bite. However, like their relatives bees, wasps, and hornets, many ants have stingers and venom.
On a technical level an ant bite and an ant sting are different. An ant bite is exactly what we refer to as a bite… when tissue or skin is grasped using mouthparts. When an ant bites no venom or poison is injected into its victim. An ant sting is when the ant uses the sharp barb (stinger) at the back of its body to inject venom into its prey. This injection of venom can paralyze and kill small insects which sometimes fall prey to certain species of ants. This venom, unless an allergy exists or injected in extremely high quantities, is rarely deadly or paralyzing to people. That is not to say that when injected, ant venom doesn’t cause profound pain, but most of the ants that sting in the United States are bearable.
So then, do ants sting or bite? Well, it depends. In the ant’s day to day interactions with nature, they use their jaws, the bite, to pin down prey, then use their stinger, if they are equipped with one, to paralyze or kill their prey. When ants interact with people, they use all their tools at their disposal if they feel afraid or their home/nest is threatened. For example, some common ants such as the odorous house ant do not even have a stinger. This common house ant, sometimes referred to as a sugar ant, can’t sting and rarely bites. If it does bite, its mandibles (jaws) are so small that it inflicts little to no damage. However, fire ants latch onto your feet or legs with their mouthparts and repeatedly inject their venom into you via their stinger. Technically speaking, when you are attacked by fire ants, you have been both bitten and stung.
Studies reveal that of the over 12,000 species of ants identified in the world, 71% of ants can sting. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4728552/ Of the ants that cannot sting, many of these have the ability to spray formic acid on their opponents. The family name of ants, Formicidae, is derived from the Latin root for ant, formica. Formic acid is present in most species of ant venom and is often combined with other peptides which cause various physiological changes in ant’s prey. It is believed that formic acid plays an integral and diverse part in the life of an ant. Formic acid may act as an alarm pheromone, it may act as an herbicide to keep vines away from tree nesting ants, and some ant species apply it to the brood perhaps to deter fungal pathogens. Amazingly, tawny crazy ants seem to coat themselves in their formic acid rich venom which makes them immune to the deadly venom of fire ants. The formic acid that is sprayed by some ants is rarely harmful to people. Formic acid is often used as a preservative and antibacterial agent in livestock feed.
Most ants that we associate with painful attacks, are actually stinging ants. The ants that only bite rarely cause physical pain or physical symptoms.
Allergic Reaction to Ant Bites
In areas where imported fire ants are common, allergic reactions to these insects is a very real concern. It should be noted that an allergic reaction is a result of an allergy to the venom injected during a sting, not a bite with mouthparts. In areas of the southeast such as Florida and Georgia, it is estimated that 50% of the population will be stung by a fire ant during the year. Children who play outside and outdoor enthusiasts such as hunters and hikers likely have a greater chance than that. Seattle Children’s Hospital estimates that between 1-2% of children will experience a severe systemic allergic reaction to the sting of the imported fire ant.
Although it is a serious incident when you or your child is attacked by thousands of stinging fire ants, often the reaction is limited to local symptoms. These local symptoms are described fully above, but include pain, white fluid filled blisters, redness, and local swelling. As painful and potentially dangerous as this reaction is, it is within the realm of normal. An allergic reaction is a complex physiological response which is potentially very dangerous and can happen quickly. Ants are relatives of bees and wasps, but if you are allergic to bees, you may not necessarily be allergic to ants.
An allergic reaction can range from widespread symptoms on your skin to severe anaphylaxis. Although not life-threatening, dermatological symptoms on areas that were not bit by ants is probably a minor allergic reaction. Doctors refer to this type of reaction as a mild systemic reaction. The symptoms may include a large area of swelling and redness and itchiness over large areas of the body. These symptoms may begin up to 24 hours after the ant bite. If you experience a minor allergic reaction, speak to your doctor who may refer you to an allergist. You may be in danger of a more severe reaction the next time an ant bites you. A severe systemic reaction, or anaphylactic reaction to an ant bite is a dangerous experience and you should call 911 immediately.
Symptoms may include:
Hives throughout the body
Itchiness over the entire body
Swelling in areas that were not bit by ants
Swelling of the lips, tongue, or throat
Difficulty breathing and shortness of breath
Stomach pain, nausea, and vomiting
Low blood pressure
Pass out or fainting
Allergic reactions to fire ants can be devasting for people in the south who enjoy outdoor activities or work outdoors. Your allergist can provide testing and offer guidance as to the likelihood of future allergic reactions to ant bites. In some situations it may be appropriate to undertake imported fire ant immunotherapy which may reduce your risk of severe reaction in the future. In all cases, if you have ever experienced this type of reaction to ant bites, or any insect bite, never leave home with your epinephrine auto-injector. The Epi-pen rapidly delivers a jolt of epinephrine which halts the progression of this dangerous auto-immune reaction.
Toxic Reactions to Ant Bites
A serious attack of fire ants can yield thousands of bites/stings. To a young child or an elderly or immune compromised person, a few hundred bites may cause a severe reaction. Although not technically the same physiological response as an allergic reaction, a toxic reaction mirrors many of the same symptoms. A toxic reaction is caused by the large amount of venom that is injected into the body. If you have sustained hundreds or even thousands of fire ant bites, we recommend speaking to a medical professional. Your organs must filter out these toxins from your body and your doctor may want to test your kidney function while you recover.
Ant Bite Pictures
Common Ants that Bite or Sting
As relayed above, the difference between an ant bite and an ant sting is whether the ant attacks you with their mouth, a stinger on their abdomen, or perhaps both… By far, the most common ant that causes painful and potentially dangerous bites/stings is the fire ant. Other ant species, such as the harvester ant and the carpenter ant are capable of causing pain, but their bites and stings are usually less serious. Harvester ants are much less aggressive and it is rare to get more than a few isolated stings that get your attention. Some common ants like Carpenter ants do not even possess a stinger and can only pinch slightly.
Ants are a wonderfully diverse group of insects with incredible abilities. At Nextgen Pest Solutions we recognize that ants are vital to a healthy ecosystem, therefore we target our approach to preventing them from coming indoors and treating the exterior of your home to keep your family safe from the ant species that can hurt you. This approach requires knowledge about each species of ant and the ability to identify that specific ant at your home or in your yard.
In this next section, we will discuss the most common types of ants in Florida and Georgia. While this is not meant to be an expert level insect identification course, a general knowledge of your local fauna is important to keep your family healthy and safe.
Fire Ant Bites
By far, the most savage ant in Georgia and Florida is the notorious fire ant. There are actually two common species of fire ants in our area, the native fire ant, Solenopsis geminata, and the more prominent red imported fire ant, Solenopsis invicta. Often the red imported fire ant is referred to as RIFA. The imported fire ant is native to South America and was introduced in the 1930’s in either Alabama or the Pensacola, Florida. Since that time, the red imported fire ant has thrived in the southeastern United States and are found in a few areas out west.
Fire ants now infest more that 260 million acres of land in the United States. After the initial introduction eradication efforts have failed. Fire ants have high reproductive rates and they spread easily through flight, aboard cars, trucks, or trains, and even mass flotillas in flood waters. As red imported fire ants enter a new region, they displace many native ant species. Ants are a war-like species. The term an “army of ants” has good rationale. Ants are highly social creatures and well organized. When they invade, they actually attack neighboring ant colonies and red imported fire ants usually win the wars.
Fire ant colonies may have only one queen, but sometimes they have more than one queen. Large fire ant colonies have between 100,000 – 500,000 workers. In areas where multiple queen colonies are common, there may be up to 200 fire ant mounds per acre, or up to 40 million fire ants per acre. Human feet traipsing across this kind of fire ant concentration do not fare well. Fire ants build their colonies underground, but the mounds or ant piles, are how we usually come into contact with them. As the fire ants dig underground to create tunnels, they bring the excess soil to the surface and pile it up. Unlike other common ant species, fire ant mounds do not have a center hole in them as fire ants do not use this mound to enter and exit the nest. However, if this mound is disturbed the underground fire ants will rush up to defend their colony.
Fire ants are one of the most aggressive insects in the world. They will fight to the death, and they usually win. In nature, small animals sometimes disturb a fire ant mound and pay the ultimate price for their intrusion. If you step in a fire ant mound the most pressing matter is getting these little biting mongrels off you. Time is of the essence. Fire ants both bite and repeatedly sting the invader. Thousands of indignant fire ants will swarm from the mound and run up a vertical surface like your leg. Get your feet out of the fire ant mound immediately and begin to brush the ants off your person.
Fire ants grasp your skin with their mandibles (mouth) and use that grasp to anchor themselves onto you. They then forcefully and aggressively pierce your skin with their stinger injecting venom into your blood stream. Because they have a solid grasp with their mouth, they lift their stinger out, and inject you again and again and again. In the case of one fire ant stinging multiple times, the fire ant pivots its body around and the stings form a semi-circle pattern. If you are accosted by thousands of ants, this pattern may be difficult to distinguish though. The most immediate concern is brushing these ants off immediately. If necessary, hose yourself or your child down or jump in a pool, just get them off quickly. They will continue to bite and sting until they are removed.
Most people who have grown up in the south know about fire ants and how nasty they can be. However, recent transplants to the south are often unfamiliar with these aggressive ants and as a result may experience horrifying consequences. Fire ant mounds are most often found in sunny areas such as pastures, parks, lawns, and fields. They can nest in any type of soil and the mound may reach up to 18” in height. Never walk outside barefooted. Especially after a rain, fire ant mounds can expand quickly. An area of the yard that was fire ant safe 3 days ago, may now be a proverbial landmine. Especially in Florida, where flip flops are basically a required uniform, consider requiring your children to wear closed toe shoes when playing outside in the yard or at the park.
The most tragic fire ant encounters involve babies being placed in the grass to enjoy the warmth of the day. Sometimes a parent or caregiver may step away for a moment to push another child on the swing, toss a ball back and forth, or tend to a skinned knee. A young baby resting on a blanket, may inadvertently roll into a fire ant mound and be unable to get away. Crying is the only defense an infant has against a hostile hoard of fire ants. In the precious moments it may take for a parent or caregiver to realize the issue and come to the aide of the distressed child, many thousands of stings can occur. While deaths from fire ant stings or bites are rare, they certainly do occur. Children and the elderly are more susceptible to the poison injected by thousands of fire ant stings.
A solitary imported fire ant sting will be a small white pustule surrounded by red. Native fire ant bites do not usually form the white pustule. The area will be irritated and itchy, but usually resolves in a few days. When attacked by thousands of red ants, the bite marks look the same, but the abundance is overwhelming. Rather than one toe feeling as if it is on fire, it is often both feet and legs which are covered in these burning wounds. This type of traumatic fire ant attack may require medical attention. Serious consequences of fire ant bits include a risk of infection from scratching the bites, risk of toxicity if more venom was injected into your system than your body can filter out, and of course an allergic or anaphylactic reaction may occur.
Fire ants are a national scourge. Many dollars and much effort have been placed into research and development of effective treatments. While fire ants will not be eliminated from the United States, they can be controlled in your yard, parks, and other outdoor areas where people congregate. If fire ants are keeping you indoors, call Nextgen Pest Solutions today. We have fast and proven methods of reducing your risk of fire ants.
Elongated Twig Ant
Elongated twig ants are long slender ants whose sting packs quite a punch! Imagine lounging under swaying palm trees reading your summer thriller by the pool, when BAM! Out of nowhere a lone ant lands on your leg and searing pain rips through your body. You likely jumped up and swatted the stinging insect off of you as quickly as possible, hopefully not spilling your drink because of the abrupt action.
However, if you had the chance to closely observe the ant, you would probably find that it was an elongated twig ant. This unique looking ant has a black head and abdomen and a red middle section. Its reddish or orange middle section looks like a Gumby doll stretched to an unusual extreme. Many people think their body shape is more like a wasp than an ant. Elongated twig ants are not nearly the threat that fire ants or red ants are because they have much smaller colonies. They usually nest in trees and other vegetation, such as dead or decaying twigs, and inadvertently drop on unsuspecting people and pets.
Twig ants, sometimes called Mexican twig ants, are not considered aggressive like fire ants. Even if their colony is disturbed, they are unlikely to swarm and attack the invader like fire ants. In fact twig ants can be safely handled and usually wont sting or bite so long as they are not crushed or mistreated. However, they are known for commonly falling out of trees and landing on people below. If they then get stuck between your shirt and skin they will sting out of self-defense.
Although the sting/bite of the elongated twig ant is relatively painful most people only sustain a single sting or two. The sting is comparable to a wasp sting. Elongated twig ant bites quickly develop redness at the bite site and may form a small pustule or blister. These ant bites can usually be treated with simple first aid procedures and rarely cause medical complications.
Harvester Ant Bites
Harvester ants collect seeds as their main source of food. However, when threatened or frightened they can deliver a serious sting. There are a few species of harvester ants, but the Florida harvester ant, Pogonomyrmex badius, is the only species found east of the Mississippi River.
The Florida harvester ant is found throughout Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, and as far north as North Carolina. However, it does not often come into conflict with humans because it seems to nest exclusively in sandy areas. These ants are most abundant in the white sands of Florida’s scrub habitat. The Florida harvester ant’s mound is relatively flat with an entrance hole in the center. Sometimes there is more than one entrance hole on the top of a Florida harvester ant mound. Underneath this mound is a vast array of tunnels and chambers. These ants harvest seeds that have fallen to the ground and also collect seeds directly from the husks of plants. The underground granaries of the Florida harvest ant are filled with an array of seeds.
Florida harvester ants do not tend to thrive in areas where humans congregate. Even when disturbed or confronted, they almost have to be badgered into using their stinger. Although their sting is quite painful, they are not considered a threat. In addition, they are not considered to of economic importance as they do not affect local agriculture or commercial crops. However, a single sting from a harvester ant, is probably more painful than a single sting from a fire ant. An entomologist studying the harvester ant in North Carolina in the 1930s described the bite. “Several ants stung me on the wrist, and after a few minutes an intense fiery pain began in this area which was about two inches in diameter. It turned deep red in color and immediately a watery, sticky secretion came out of the skin. This area became hot and feverish and the excruciating pain lasted all day and up into the night.” https://academic.oup.com/aesa/article/31/2/196/79725
Carpenter Ant Bites
Visually speaking, carpenter ants are an ant’s ant. They are among the largest ant species in North America and very clearly display all the classic characteristics of ants. Carpenter ants are common throughout much of the United States and are routinely found inside and around homes if the conditions are right. If you were to base your fear of ant bites upon the size of the ant, carpenter ants would be at the top of the list. But, despite their imposing size and routine appearance around our homes, carpenter ants should not be feared for their bite.
Carpenter ants build their nests in dead and decaying wood or stumps. They do not eat the wood for nourishment rather they excavate soft damaged wood to build their nests. Outdoors, carpenter ant nests are usually found in previously damaged wood. Unless they are foraging indoors for food, the entirety of the nest is rarely an issue for homeowners. However, sometimes carpenter ants build nests indoors. Indoor carpenter ant nests are usually associated with a water leak or indoor moisture issue. When leaky kitchens and bathrooms are dismantled for repairs, it is not uncommon to come face to face with a carpenter ant nest. Carpenter ants bite but they don’t sting. A carpenter ant foraging in your home for food is not likely to pick a fight with you. However, if you open up a wall void and put your hand into a carpenter ant nest, you will likely get bit.
Remember, carpenter ants have strong jaws capable of chewing through soft wood. Because of their large size and exceptionally strong mandibles, carpenter ants are one of the few ant species whose bite can break human skin. In addition to the strong grasp with their jaws, carpenter ants may secrete formic acid onto the puncture mark resulting in a slight burning sensation. Carpenter ant bites, while certainly unpleasant, rarely result in anything more than slight irritation and redness. The burning sensation and pain associated with carpenter ant bites is very short lived and almost never requires medical intervention.
Although the bite of a carpenter ant is really nothing to be concerned with, they are a pest that can further damage the structural components of your home. To achieve carpenter ant control, the nest should be located and treated. This expedition often requires the knowledge and expertise of a professional. Carpenter ants can be a finicky species to conquer, so call the experts at Nextgen Pest Solutions to be rid of these ants once and for all.
Cow Killer or Velvet Ant Bites
Cow killers or velvet ants are one of the most beautiful, insects, but their bite or sting packs quite the punch! The vibrant red, yellow, orange, or even blue coloring on this insect gives fair warning that its sting is powerful and its venom potent. The female cow killer or velvet ant are fuzzy and wingless, boasting the typical shape of an ant. Technically though, cow killers also called velvet ants, are a species of wasp. The male cow killers look more like a typical wasp, but do not bite/sting as they have no stinger.
Cow killers are found throughout the United States, but the females are most often found walking erratically on bare or sandy soil. Cow killers are usually solitary and not found accumulated together in groups. If you should encounter a female velvet ant it is near impossible to not stop and watch it for a while. Their vibrant coloring and hurried and strange activities make for fascinating observation but resist the urge to pick it up. Named the cow killer because it is said the sting is so painful it could kill a cow that accidentally eats one in the grass. Cow killers or velvet ants rarely come indoors, but keep your distance if you encounter them outdoors.
Ants that Do Not Bite or Sting
With over 12,000 ant species on earth, most ants never come into conflict with humans. Of the more common ants that invade our homes, vehicles, and restaurants, most of them are foraging or searching for food to bring back to their nest. Since they feel no need to defend their nest they often seek to avoid humans and instead focus on their search for food. If manhandled, some small foraging ants may attempt to bite, but the jaws are so small, any action is unlikely to break the skin.
Most homeowners refer to the common ant invaders as black ants or sugar ants. In reality, these “sugar” ants could be ghost ants, Pharoah ants, white-footed ants, or even crazy ants. The point is, they don’t sting or bite and cause any harm. They are simply unwelcome pests in our homes. Even though these small ants don’t bite, sting, or otherwise inflict damage upon us, each species has unique habits and characteristics. For example, crazy ants can neutralize fire ant venom by spreading formic acid on their bodies. Pharoah ants are especially problematic in hospitals and long-term care facilities, and even though white-footed ants don’t bite or sting they can live in colonies of up to 3,000,000 ants. Aptly named acrobat ants put on a circus show when they are disturbed, tossing their abdomens in the air as if dancing or juggling.
Just because many ant species don’t really tend to physically hurt humans, they can still cause damage in other ways. As ants walk across your kitchen counter or in your pantry, they may spread bacteria or disease. Some of these non-biting ants may their nests indoors, creating a mess and possible structural damage. To quickly get these nuisance ants out of your home, a proper identification and knowledge about their nesting and foraging habits should be employed. With ant’s exceptional sense of smell, all aspects of Integrated Pest Management should be utilized by a trained professional to keep the pest ants out of your home for good.
What To Do For Ant Bites
A single or just a few ant bites rarely require medical intervention, simple first aid procedures are generally sufficient to ease the discomfort. However, complications may occur when you or a child have been attacked by thousands of fire ants. If this is the case, we recommend seeking medical treatment by a doctor. If your situation is minor and you are only experiencing pain, redness, and itch at the site of the bite, ant bites usually go away on their own and resolve within a few days. In the meantime, you can alleviate the symptoms with the basics of your medicine cabinet.
Wash the ant bite area with soap and water to prevent infections.
Apply ice to the bites to prevent swelling.
Apply topical cream such as hydrocortisone to the bites.
If the itch is severe or difficult to avoid scratching, an oral antihistamine may help to alleviate the itch. If you experience any significant symptoms, such as difficulty breathing, chest pain, nausea/vomiting, or dizziness, seek professional medical treatment. After an examination, doctors may prescribe corticosteroids to reduce the swelling, or epinephrine if there are signs of an allergic reaction.
Should I Pop Ant Bite Blisters?
Immediately upon the ant injecting its venom into your foot or ankle, you will experience pain, redness, and swelling. As your immune system begins its attack on this venom, many people develop ant bite pustules. The appearance of the ant bites change in shape and color to white and are puss filled blisters. Often the temptation is to pop the blisters to quickly remove the physical reminder of the ant attack.
However, popping ant bite pustules is not recommended. These pustules are proof that your body is fighting the ant venom as it should. These blisters are usually sterile, and underneath them, the immune system is cleaning up the cells that the ant venom killed or damaged. As your immune system makes progress, the pustules will diminish in size and eventually go away.
Unrestrained scratching can lead to these blisters breaking open. Any time, the skin is broken open, the risk for infection is imminent. Especially for children who do not understand the importance of preventing infection, provide pain and itch relief medications to dissuade them from scratching the area and potentially breaking open these ant bite pustules. Loosely cover the area with gauze if necessary. If you begin to notice yellow crust forming on the bites, fluid draining from the ant bites, or a fever, the area may be infected. If you suspect, ant bite pustules are infected seek medical treatment as quickly as possible.
Do Flying Ants Bite?
Flying ants are the reproductives of the ant colony. Some species of ants reproduce by sending special winged swarmers or alates out of the colony. These winged ants have a single-minded focus, find a mate and attempt to find a new place to start a colony. These nuptial flights occur when an ant colony is well established and mature.
Flying ants are often confused with winged termites and often generate concern from homeowners. There are three simple clues to determine if the winged swarm is ants or termites:
Waist – Ants have a tapered waist and termites have a broad waist
Antennae – Ants have bent antennae and termites have straight antennae
Wings – Ant’s wings are different length and all of the termite’s wings are the same length.
Using these simple guidelines, if you have a winged ant invasion you may wonder if these ants bite or sting. Generally, these flying ants are most concerned about surviving and establishing a new colony. In addition, only females can have a stinger since it is a modified ovipositor so the roughly 50% of the flying ants that are male cannot sting. Also, many flying ants (soon to be queens) have an ovipositor to lay eggs and not to modified sting like the female worker ants. However, some reproductives of some species are capable of stinging if threatened. For example, fire ant and carpenter ant colonies expand using this nuptial flight method. If harassed or threatened while searching for a mate or new home, these ant species can bite or sting. However, they do not have the power of the entire colony to attack with, therefore the impact would likely be less severe than if you stepped in a fire ant mound.
Ant Bite vs. Bed Bug Bite?
Ant and bed bug bites tend to look similar and both may even occur in bed. Proper insect identification is necessary as the treatment for ants and bed bugs are dramatically different. The most accurate method of identification is by obtaining sample of the insect. Bed bugs and ants are readily identifiable to a trained pest professional. Typically, bed bug infestations start as a single bed bug introduction and exponentially grow. Severe ant situations have been located in hospitals and nursing homes where ant nests have moved into the room and attacked the victim by the hundreds or thousands. In either case, an insect sample is the best evidence of whether you are being bit by bed bugs or ants in your bed, couch, or arm chair.
Chances are, if a colony of biting or stinging ants is established near your bed, you will likely sustain many bites in a short period of time. The bites will likely transform into puss filled blisters or pustules. In addition, bed bugs operate stealthily at night with the aid of a chemical agent in their saliva that numbs their victim. Bed bug’s saliva anesthetizes their victim and allows them to rest easily while the bed bug obtains her needed blood meal. Ants do not have this numbing agent. The entire purpose of the ants stinging ability is to defend itself and the colony, therefore, they need their sting to be painful. If ants are biting you in bed, you will likely feel the sting and awaken.
Ant Bites on Dogs
Dogs are especially at risk for fire or red ant attacks. Whether on a daily walk, chasing squirrels in the yard, or simply lounging under a tree with their humans, dogs spend much of their day outdoors. Fire ant mounds pop up quickly, especially after a summer rain. An area of the yard that was ant-free and clear one day, may pose a substantial ant risk just one day later. Just as with humans, a dog that steps in or lays on a fire ant mound will incur the wrath of the nest and be mercilessly attacked.
If your dog suddenly appears to be in distress, he may be under attack by fire ants. If so, quickly remove your pet from the area and wipe or remove all the ants off his body. Check carefully between his toes for ants, under the collar, and the belly and face area.
Symptoms and treatments for pets that have been attacked by fire ants are similar to humans. As with humans, the severity of the reaction depends upon the makeup of the individual pet and how many bites they sustained. Most pups will react with red itchy bumps in the areas that were attacked. These bumps may progress to white puss filled blisters. Preventing scratching, licking, and biting of these itchy bumps is paramount to avoid infection. Placing a dog cone around your dog’s neck may keep him from accessing these sensitive ant bites. Speak to your veterinarian prior to giving your pet any medication, but an ice pack is generally helpful to alleviate the burning sensation. Clean the affected area and apply any soothing salve recommended by your veterinarian.
Just as some people are allergic to fire ant venom, some dogs are similarly affected. If you notice any signs of difficulty breathing, vomiting, or weakness contact your veterinarian. Your pet may be suffering an anaphylactic reaction to the ant venom.
Fire ants can be controlled in yards and parks, making the needless suffering your beloved pet unnecessary. The painful impact of fire ant bites on your pet is just another reason to control pest ants in your home and yard.
How to Prevent Ant Bites
While many species of ants can deliver a sting or bite, by far, the most notorious ant for biting in Georgia and Florida is the fire ant. As we learned above, many of the pest ants that we find indoors do not bite and rarely sting.
To prevent never walk outside bare footed. Fire ant mounds can pop up and significantly expand overnight. Even walking barefooted on your driveway, you risk ant bites as they can nest in the cracks of the concrete or along the edges. Even a non-aggressive ant species may be inclined to bite or sting if it is stepped on, so shoes are the best barrier between you and a biting ant. In addition, do not lay babies in the grass and step away for even the briefest of moments. Even if they are resting on a picnic blanket, a baby who cannot yet run away or alert you to their pain is at high risk for a sustained fire ant attack.
When doing yard work or home renovations or repairs, wear gloves to protect yourself from the unknown. While working you may unknowingly put your hand into an ant nest. If you inadvertently find a carpenter nest behind your bathroom wall, you will likely feel their rage as they protect their home.
Pest Control for Ant Bites
Regular preventative pest control is one of the best ways you can protect your family and pets from the risk of ant bites. With a trained technician actively working to keep pest ants outdoors and treating fire ant mounds as they appear, your risk of ant bites decreases significantly. Preventative pest control catches pest problems early and eliminates them before they balloon out of control. By using Integrative Pest Management procedures which combines common sense control measures and safe yet effective pesticides, Nextgen Pest Solutions controls ants and other general household pests.