The Sting of the Red Imported Fire Ant

Solenopsis invicta

You are most likely to suffer an attack by the red imported fire ant - RIFA - if you inadvertently, and unwittingly, disturb a nest mound, for example, by stepping on it. You will trigger an orchestrated attack. Before you realize what has happened, the ants emerge en masse, swarm your legs and choose their attack sites. Upon receiving a chemical signal, they begin stinging almost simultaneously.

If you watched an individual RIFA, you would see it clamp its barbed mandibles into your skin, bend its abdomen into a stinging position, then drive its stinger home again and again, injecting a venomous brew of alkaloids and proteins. With each sting, you would feel as if you had been by touched a hot spark.

The sting & venom of an imported red fire ant

Red Imported Fire AntRed fire ants earn their name because their sting creates a burning sensation in the site of the bite, hence the name ‘fire’ ant. The sting of a red fire ant releases a toxic alkaloid venom called Solenopsin.

Symptoms of Imported Red Fire Ant Stings

  • Redness and minor swelling, accompanied by intense itching and burning at the site of each sting.
  • Within a few hours, your itching and burning will subside, but then a blister will form.
  • Within a day or so, you will experience the development of a white sterile postule - an elevated lesion that contains pus - at each sting site. The postules may last for days. They may rupture if scratched and leave scarring.
  • Should you fail to treat the postules, especially any that are ruptured, you can suffer infection. The wounds may last for weeks and cause permanent scarring.
  • Depending on the degree of allergy and the number of stings, an entire limb can become involved, with swelling, redness, itching and even hives.

If you are among the minority with high sensitivity to the venom, you might suffer a condition called "anaphylaxis," which is a severe and life-threatening allergic reaction characterized by responses such as a drop in blood pressure, vomiting, diarrhea, swelling, facial puffiness, severe sweating, wheezing, hives and slurred speech. If you have diabetes or a circulatory disorder, you may be at a higher risk for complications.

If you should be among the very few with extreme hypersensitivity to the venom, you could lapse into a coma and even face death.

Statistics

According to various estimates, you can expect to get stung by red fire ants every year or so if you live in a heavily infested area. In his book, The Best Control, Stephen Tvedten said that more than 200,000 people in infested areas seek medical attention for red imported fire ant stings each year. According to the Nature Internet site, some 80 people have died in the United States as a result of anaphylaxis induced by red fire ant stings. Just within the past 10 to 15 years several nursing home residents and an Arizona infant have died as a result of stings by the red fire ant.

Common Questions About Red Imported Fire Ants

 

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