Fire ants are a red species of ants known for building dome-shaped dirt mounds between 12 inches and 3 feet in diameter. Native to South America, fire ants now thrive in the southern United States, including Alabama, New Mexico, Oklahoma and California. They frequently sting animals and people that stray too close to their nests. Fire ant venom contains piperidine, a substance that causes redness, swelling, pain and other symptoms.
Fire ant bites produce a burning and itching sensation on the location of the body where the injury occurred. It is followed by swelling and a redness of the skin. The U.S. National Library of Medicine reports that fire ant stings often cause blisters on the skin up to eight days after the incident. These blisters usually disappear within 72 hours, but can cause infection if scratched and broken open. Scabs, also may appear on the affected area after the blisters subside.
The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control warns that one out of every 200 people suffers from a serious allergy to fire ant stings. These individuals may break out in hives and notice swelling of the face. Additionally, allergic victims may experience difficulty breathing, a rapid heartbeat and swelling of the throat. If you’re allergic to fire ants and experience any of these symptoms after being stung, seek medical attention immediately, as death could occur if left untreated.
The U.S. National Library of Medicine recommends a number of treatments for non-allergic victims of a fire ant sting. Wash the affected area thoroughly with soap and water, but avoid harsh disinfectants and alcohol. Wrap ice cubes in a washcloth or towel and apply it to the sting for 10 minutes. Repeat this process until the swelling subsides. Individuals experiencing an allergic reaction should contact poison control or visit the emergency room before symptoms worsen.
The Oak Ridge National Laboratory reports that fire ants entered the United States in the early 20th century. Fire ants now live in at least nine southern states. Hybrid fire ants, the product of cross breeding between red and black species, exist in larger numbers and stretch across the entire southern half of the country. Fire ants prefer sunny areas such as lawns, fields and pastures. Keep on the lookout for their tell-tale dirt mounts when walking through open, grassy areas in southern states. The best way to prevent fire ant bites is to avoid coming into contact with a ant colony.