If you’ve spent any time outside, you’ve probably felt a sharp pain and looked down to see that ants are crawling on you.
Or, perhaps you’ve heard the sudden cries of children who were playing too close to an anthill. What causes that pain, stings or bites?
Do ants bite? All ants are capable of biting, as it is their only form of defense. Some ants, however, will also use the stinger located on their hind end to deliver venom while latching on to skin by biting. Many ant bites will go unnoticed, although some can be incredibly painful.
Some bites are only itchy and won’t be painful, but they’re irritating enough to want to know how to avoid them at all costs.
In the following, we’ll take a closer look at why ants bite, if they sting as well, how to avoid bites, and how to handle being on the receiving end of a bite.
Why Ants Attack
Just about every animal has some kind of defense mechanism for when they feel threatened. For ants, it’s biting and stinging.
All ants in the colony have specific duties to fulfill.
Some stay underground to care for larvae, some are sent out to forage for food, some are born solely to mate with a queen (learn about these winged ants here), and some are sent out to patrol for danger.
If these patrolling ants sense any kind of danger, they communicate a warning to the rest of the colony, and the colony will send forth more ants to swarm around the enemy.
Wondering if those busy little ants that never seem to stop moving ever actually sleep? Check out this article to find the answer – it may surprise you.
How Ants Attack
Many ants will sting by biting. When they bite, they deposit their venom into the enemy.
Some types of ants have separate stingers on their abdomen. The order of insects Hymenoptera includes ants, wasps, bees, and many others, which is why some of these ants have a stinger.
Ants with stingers will bite first and sting with the stinger in a circle around the bite while still latching onto the skin.
This type of sting is usually more painful than the sting that occurs through biting since there are several stings in one area.
As painful as an ant bite or sting may be, perhaps it will help to know that ants are one of the most beneficial creatures in the world. It’s true! Discover how they aid the environment here.
The Most Painful Bites
Three types of ants are known for causing painful bites. You’re probably thinking of fire ants, and you’re right – they’re usually at the top of the list for being the most painful.
There are about 200 different fire ants species, but in the United States, the red imported fire ants (RIFA) are the most common.
They’re imported from South America and are most common in the Southern states because they can’t survive in dry or cold regions.
Fire ants earned their name by causing a sharp sting that hurts much worse than other ant bites.
Whether they’re RIFA or some other species, you can expect these ants to be aggressive and bite several times, and you’ll feel the pain almost immediately.
Harvester ants are a type of ant that collect seeds. They’re quite beneficial to ecosystems because they disperse seeds and “plant” them by storing them in the ground.
They also aerate the soil, which improves oxygen levels for plants.
It’s best to leave these ants alone because they’re aggressive and cause painful stings.
They sting with their abdomen after biting, and the area will leave you in pain for up to eight hours. Your body will begin to sweat around the area.
Oak Ants (Twig Ants)
Oak ants have a few other names, including elongated twig ant, black and orange ant, and tree ant.
This ant lives in trees and shrubs, so you’ll only come into contact with it if you’re around their natural habitat.
You might not notice these ants since they like to hunt alone.
They have their colony, of course, but you won’t always see them together like you would other species, which is why their sting will likely come as a surprise.
Their sting is excruciating and will cause similar sensations as fire ant and harvester ant stings.
They’re native to Texas, Mexico, and South America but can be found in several Southern states and California, although they’re rarely found in areas they’re not native to.
Don’t miss out on key prevention tips and elimination strategies that actually get results. You’ll find all of our ant articles right here.
What to Do If an Ant Bites You
Many ant bites aren’t serious, so you don’t have to panic if you get bitten.
However, you might experience severe discomfort or pain if it’s a bite from one of the ants mentioned above or if you’re allergic to the venom.
If you have concerns of any kind, contact a medical professional or Poison Control (1-800-222-1222). If it doesn’t seem severe, you can follow the steps listed below.
1. Remove the Ants from Your Body and Identify
Don’t squish the ants that are on you. Instead, brush them off with your hand or flick them off with your fingers.
Attempting to smash it – which you’ll probably do in a panicked state – will only increase your chances of getting stung or bitten again (and again, and again).
In a worst-case scenario, you may have to remove your clothing if you end up with ants in your pants.
If possible, try to identify what kind of ant bit you. Doing so will allow you to prepare for how much pain you can expect to feel and how to get rid of them later.
Of course, if the pain is too much to handle, you can go back and identify them later.
2. Wash With Soap and Water
Soap will relieve pain caused by ant bites, so wash the area thoroughly as soon as you get the critters off you. Cold water will feel the best, but you can use what’s most comfortable for you.
3. Apply a Cool Compress
After your skin has been washed, apply a cool compress to the bitten area. You can use a wet washcloth or an ice pack.
Keep it in place for at least a few minutes so your skin can get some relief.
4. Seek Medical Help or Over-the-Counter Painkiller
If you have any of these symptoms, contact Poison Control or a medical professional:
- Severe pain
- Difficulty breathing
- Swollen face and lips
Many ant bites, especially from fire ants, will swell and become red.
This is normal for the most part, but if they’re accompanied by the symptoms mentioned above, it could be a sign of an allergic reaction.
If you don’t appear to have severe symptoms, over-the-counter painkillers will relieve the pain.
You can expect stinging to stick around for up to eight hours, so painkillers will come in handy.
You can also apply a topical treatment as well, preferably one that provides both itch and pain relief, like Benedryl Itch Stopping Gel.
Because it contains diphenhydramine hydrochloride, itchiness and the associated discomfort disappear quickly.
It’s great to have on hand as it’s also effective on minor scrapes, sunburn, and rashes caused by poison oak, ivy, or sumac.
How to Prevent Ant Bites
There are a few steps you can take to avoid getting bitten in the future.
Wear protective clothing when you’re outside, especially if you’re going to a field or large backyard. Tennis shoes, socks, and long pants will protect you the best.
Long sleeves will be best if you’re going to trim trees in an area with oak ants.
This is the obvious answer, but make sure children know this rule, too. Kids are curious and think ants look interesting.
It’s okay to watch, but getting too close may result in a bite. If you spot an anthill, make sure everyone in the area knows about it.
Look Out for Trails
If you spot a trail of ants heading to and from a food source, stay away from it. If the trail isn’t interrupted, the ants won’t get distracted and bite you.
If the trail is near your home, you’ll need to get rid of it eventually, but your backyard gathering shouldn’t be disrupted if everyone stays away from it.
Note that if the trail you discover leads right into your kitchen or pantry, you’re most likely dealing with sugar ants, a group of ant species that prefers sugary foods.
These ants don’t bite often, and when they do, the bite is relatively painless. Learn more about these commonly seen ants in this article.
Kill Ants in the Area
Of course, prevention is always the best approach, and in our article “How To Get Rid of Ants” you’ll find prevention methods that will help to keep ants off of your property and out of your home.
For immediate help though, you can kill ants on contact with a pesticide like Terro Outdoor Ant Killer Spray, but be sure that children and pets are out of the area when using.
Terro’s powerful spray can reach up to 15 feet, so you never have to get too close and risk a bite when eliminating them.
For a natural method, pour cornstarch over the ants and then pour a little water. It will suffocate and kill the ones that get stuck.
For additional options, check out “Best Outdoor Ant Killer.” You’ll find both pesticide and natural products that will effectively wipe out your ant problem.
Ant bites aren’t too much of a concern unless you start to see symptoms of an allergic reaction. If that’s the case, you should seek medical assistance immediately.
All ants can and will bite if they feel threatened, so the best way to avoid getting bitten is to avoid them when possible.
If you have to walk around ants, wear socks and shoes to protect your feet and ankles, which are usually the most vulnerable part of the body when it comes to ants.