Fire ants are far more aggressive than the typical ant. In fact, fire ant bites can cause allergic reactions for most people who are unlucky enough to chance upon a few of these insects. There are actually two types of fire ants: the red imported fire ants (Solenopsis invicta) and the European fire ants (Myrmica rubra). While the red imported fire ants are more abundant in the southern United States where the climate is warmer, the European ants thrive in the northeast, particularly Europe and Central Asia where the climate is cool.
Let’s discuss some important facts regarding the appearance, behavior, and the danger involved upon encounter with fire ants.
Adult fire ants are small; with sizes comparable to a grain of rice. They have antennae that have 10 segments and two nodes. The red imported fire ants are normally reddish brown in color, with darker pigmentations in the abdomen part. European fire ants, on the other hand, are mainly red and have darker pigmentations in the head area. One distinguishing feature of the red imported fire ants from the European fire ants is the two humps located between the abdomen and the thorax. This is better seen under a magnifying glass.
Fire ants are known to be dominant and actively compete against other ant species. In fact, a lot of native ants get displaced from their natural environment due to fire ants driving them away. Upon choosing the right spot (usually in the ground), fire ants proceed to building their nests. Once they are established, the colonies will naturally spread through a method called “colony budding,” in which one or more queens together with a group of worker ants will leave the original colony and build their own satellite colony. Satellite colonies are usually established not too far from the parent colony.
Fire ants are also known as swarming, aggressive ants and often deliver painful stings when disturbed. They are also known to negatively impact agriculture as they have a tendency to destroy crops.
Fire ants are omnivorous, their diet ranging from meats to greasy and sweet materials such as fruits and vegetables.
Why Fire Ants Are Dangerous
It was mentioned previously that fire ants are aggressive and deliver stings when disturbed, but this is not why the fire ant earned its name. Though most ants would bite, fire ants bite AND sting — causing a sharp, painful, burning sensation because of the venom’s toxicity. Disturbance of the fire ant’s nest gives it enough reason to attack you in swarms and repeatedly sting the intruder. A bite from a Fire Ant often results in pustules or welts which, when left untreated, may cause allergic reactions and infections. Although rare, it may cause death due to allergic reaction.
If you find yourself nursing a fire ant sting, here is what you should do:
- Place the affected area at an elevated position. If the stings are on your arm, hold your arm up to help minimize the swelling.
- Bathe the infected area with water and soap. This helps prevent the stings from getting infected.
- Hold a cold compress over the stings. This helps alleviate itching, numbing, and swelling.
- Apply hydrocortisone cream or take over-the-counter antihistamines to avoid allergic reactions from worsening.
- Avoid popping and scratching at the blisters to prevent them from breaking. If, however, you break the blisters, wash the area immediately with soap and water.
You are most likely allergic if you’ll display the following symptoms when bitten by fire ants:
- Anaphylactic shock, which may lead to blackout, cardiac arrest, and dizziness if not treated immediately
- Itching, swelling, and hives in areas bitten
- Diarrhea, vomiting, or nausea
- Difficulty breathing or tightness in the chest area
- Difficulty swallowing or swelling of lips, tongue, and throat
If you think you are suffering from the symptoms mentioned above, then seek treatment immediately. Treating fire ant bites at hospitals would most likely involve antihistamines, epinephrine, or steroids.