How to Get Rid of Fire Ants: 8 Things You Need to Know

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How to Kill Fire Ants: 8 Important Facts

In South Carolina, summertime brings with it a variety of pests. Out of all of them, though, fire ants may be the most dangerous. All it takes is one fire ant bite to understand just how serious this pest can be. If you’ve discovered an ant hill filled with these dangerous insects in your yard or near your home, you’re likely wondering how to get rid of them.


Effective fire ant control starts with having the right knowledge. What are fire ants? Why do they bite? How should you attempt to treat a fire ant bite? And, most importantly of all, how do you get rid of fire ants? Keep reading for answers to the top 8 most important questions about fire ants.

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1. What Are Fire Ants?

South Carolina is home to a variety of ant species, but few of them are quite so dangerous as fire ants. This ant species is found throughout the southeastern United States, along with southwestern states like California, New Mexico, and Texas.

Fire ants are relatively small, measuring between 1.6 mm to 5 mm in length (1/16” - 1/5") with a proportionally large, visible stinger. Fire ants can produce sizeable ant hills, ranging all the way up to 61 cm wide and 18 cm in height (24” wide by 7” tall). A single colony can contain hundreds of thousands of individual fire ants, and eliminating them can be difficult.

The name “fire ant” comes not only from their reddish color, but also from the extremely painful bites that they’re capable of inflicting. More on this below.


2. Why Do Fire Ants Bite?

Fire ants don’t bite humans because they think we’re a source of food. Fire ants are in fact omnivorous, meaning they can feed on both animal and plant sources when it comes to food. They’ll eat worms, spiders, ticks, and other insects, along with fruits and various plants. Fire ants have even been known to eat larger dead animals such as birds, rodents, and cattle.

When it comes to biting humans, however, they typically do so because they feel threatened. This is true of most ants: they bite as part of a defense mechanism.

In the case of fire ants, though, it’s important to understand that it’s not necessarily the bite that you have to worry about: rather, it’s the sting. There’s a difference between a fire ant bite and a fire ant sting. While the bite itself can be painful, it’s the sting inflicted by the ant after it’s latched onto you with its jaws that can be so dangerous.

While the ant is secured onto its target using its powerful mandibles, it can use its stinger to repeatedly inject an alkaloid venom into its victim. The ant will pivot around in a circle as it continues to sting, and generally won’t stop until it’s been brushed off (in the case of a human) or the victim is dead (in the case of insects or small animals).


3. What Are the Symptoms of Fire Ant Bites?

Fire ant stings are one of the most painful insect bites you can experience. A common ant bite is uncomfortable, of course -- but if you’ve been stung by a fire ant, there’s no mistaking the intensely painful burning sensation that will accompany it.

After you’re managed to brush off the fire ant that’s stung you, the site of the sting will likely swell, turn red, and itch fiercely. One or more itchy bumps will typically appear. Within 24 hours of the sting (or stings, depending on how long the fire ant was attached), it’s common for these bumps to be replaced by one or more raised, pus-filled blisters on your skin. These blisters can last for more than a week, or even longer in particularly sensitive individuals. They can sometimes result in scarring of the skin.

In certain individuals, swelling can go beyond the area immediately surrounding the bite. A sting on the ankle may lead to swelling of the foot and lower leg, for example. This swelling can last for days.

Some individuals are especially sensitive to fire ants and may present with severe allergic symptoms. These can include:

  • Itching and swelling which extend far beyond the range of the bite
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Stomach pain
  • Vomiting
  • Chest tightness
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Swelling of the tongue or throat
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Difficulty speaking

In some severe cases, individuals can experience a serious and life threatening full body allergic reaction known as anaphylaxis. This type of reaction can result in loss of consciousness, cardiac arrest, and death.

If you’re experiencing severe symptoms related to a fire ant sting, it’s important to seek medical attention immediately.


4. Are There Home Remedies for Fire Ant Bites?

As with many insect bites and stings, there are a number of over-the-counter treatments that can be used to treat fire ant stings. These include the following:

  • Cold compress: by placing a cold compress over a fire ant sting, it’s possible to reduce the swelling
  • Antihistamines: using an oral antihistamine can cut down on the amount of itching associated with fire ant stings
  • Hydrocortisone: for topical itch relief, over-the-counter creams containing hydrocortisone can be helpful
  • Antibiotic ointment: scratching a fire ant sting can lead to open, bleeding blisters, and antibiotic ointment can reduce the risk of infection

It’s important to recognize when professional medical help is needed. If you believe you’re experiencing an allergic reaction, seek professional medical assistance immediately.


5. Should I Seek Medical Treatment for Fire Ant Stings?

Certain individuals have more mild reactions to fire ant stings. In some instances, however, reactions can be severe. Sensitive individuals can experience anaphylaxis as a result of a fire ant sting.

If you’re concerned that you may be experiencing a severe reaction, it’s important to seek medical assistance immediately. A doctor may need to administer epinephrine to stop the allergic reaction. In the case of severe localized or systemic swelling, hydrocortisone or other steroids may be used.


6. Are Fire Ants Dangerous for Children and Pets?

Fire ants are a potential danger for anyone, regardless of their age. But when it comes to children and pets, they can be especially hazardous. An unsuspecting child or pet that disturbs a fire ant mound could end up with a large number of bites very quickly, resulting in a severe and painful allergic reaction.

It’s important to teach your children how to respond in the event of a fire ant bite. Make sure that they know how to brush the ants off immediately, thus avoiding multiple stings. In the case of a pet which has been bitten, brush the fire ants off as quickly as possible using a towel, piece of fabric, or other barrier to protect your hands from stings. Note that water is ineffective at dislodging fire ants. Never try to spray the fire ants off of your pet or dip them in water, as the ants will simply clamp down even harder.

If you believe you’ve detected an allergic reaction in your child or pet, be sure to seek medical attention right away.


7. How Do I Prevent Fire Ants?

The last thing any homeowner wants is a yard full of fire ant mounds. By taking the right preventive steps, it’s possible to reduce the risk of encountering fire ants in or around your home.

While there are baits and granular insecticides available to the public for home use, applying these substances correctly can be difficult. Additionally, these chemicals can put your children and pets at risk. If you’re looking to prevent fire ants in your home, we recommend working with a professional company like Home Pest Control.


8. Do I Need Professional Ant Control?

If you’re wondering how to get rid of fire ants, the answer is simple: professional ant control. Home ant control methods available to consumers are often ineffective, dangerous, and more expensive than professional help in the long run. Here at Home Pest Control, we offer safe, effective ant control services that are both environmentally friendly and affordable.

Want to learn more about how to prevent pests all year long? Download our free pest control calendar for homeowners!

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July 25, 2018

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