Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Fire Ants in the Southern United States

If you have never been bit by a fire ant...You don't want to...I was in Dallas a few weeks ago, and I still have a little bump from where I was bit by a single fire ant, also called red ants, by the pool.

I am not kidding!

They call them fire ants because it burns when you are bit by them. They pack a wallop! Problem is, you usually don't get hit by just one. You probably stepped in an ant mound without even knowing it!

They are super quick, and all swarm up your legs, or whatever body part is touching the ground, and bite you. It feels like fire all over.

When I played softball at Texas A&M, and at McNeese State University, we came across the same problems, sometimes even on the field.

Our dog, Kaptain, when he was a puppy, stepped in a fire ant while he was outside, and we happened to be watching him closely and ran over to grab him. Before we could pick him up, in about 1 second, they were all the way up his legs. We quickly brushed them off without one getting to his skin to bite him. This just goes to show how quick they are!

What to do? Stay away from them. They often make huge mounds (up to 40 cm high), if given the chance. Don't mess with them at all! Stay away!

There are over 280 species of fire ants worldwide.

Scientific Classification:

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda
Class: Insecta
Order: Hymenoptera
Suborder: Apocrita
Family: Formicidae
Subfamily: Myrmicinae
Tribe: Solenopsidini
Genus: Solenopsis

Typically, they feed on seeds, plants and sometimes crickets. However, they will protect their mounds from anything.

Why does it burn when you're bit?

Most ants bite and then squirt an acid that burns, but the fire ant bites in order to get a grip to sting you with a stinger from the abdomen, that injects you with a toxin that is an alkaloid venom called Solenopsin.


Now this can swell into a bump that can then form a pustule, which gives you the risk of becoming infected. If they get infected, you may have a scar later.

What Can I Do After a Bite that will Help?

Aloe Vera, antihistamines and corticosteroids may help reduce the itching of the bites. However, some individuals may be very sensitive to this venom and actually need Emergency treatment due to anaphylaxis.