There are more than 12,000 species of ants in the world, and more than 700 in the U.S. alone, all differing in how they defend themselves.
Learn more about their bites and stings below, along with some recommended ant bite treatment methods.
Insect Bites and Stings
The question “Do all ants bite?" might seem like it has a simple answer, but in reality, it's a little more complicated. Generally speaking, all ants do have chewing mouthparts that they can use to bite what they're eating.
However, many house-infesting ant species are so small that their mandibles generally aren't able to hurt people when they bite. It's actually the sting that some ants dole out that hurts, which we'll talk more about below. These ant stings may be mistaken for bites.
Typically, ants will sting if they feel they or their nests are being threatened or if they're attempting to get food.
How to Identify Ant Stings
Fortunately, while inconvenient and irritating, most ant stings are relatively harmless. Regardless of the species responsible, ant stings are typically accompanied by redness, pain, burning, mild swelling and possibly itching.
In most cases, symptoms will subside within a few days.
How to Identify Ant Bites
Some ants, however, can sting with more ferocity and cause additional complications. Perhaps the most notorious stinging ants are fire ants. These stinging ants are known for aggressively defending their nests and swarming potential invaders, inflicting dozens or hundreds of bites at a time.
Fire ants bite with their jaws, then sting in a circular pattern on the skin.
They release venom into the stings, ultimately leading to the presence of tiny red welts with white pustules.
You'll likely know it's a fire ant sting because there's often an immediate pinching or burning sensation. This is short-lived, typically lasting a few seconds to a few minutes. Soon after, you'll probably feel itching, which will intensify over time.
How Long Do Ant Bites Last?
According to the Seattle Children's Hospital, after being stung by a fire ant, most people will see a raised red welt. Don't be concerned by the red skin. This is normal and doesn't mean that the area is infected.
Over the next 12–24 hours, the welt will go down and a pustule will take its place (this is actually the dead skin). These look like yellow pimples and usually go away within two to three days. Some may last up to 10 days, though. You may also notice some swelling around the sting area.
It's also common to have more than one of these bites, as fire ants are aggressive stingers.
What is the Best Ant Bite Treatment?
According to the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension, the ant bite treatment method depends on your symptoms and their severity.
If you only have red welts, some simple home remedies will help the bite go away over time. These home remedies are a combination of remedies from Texas A&M AgriLife Extension and Seattle Children's Hospital:
- What do you put on ant bites? A cold compress or ice pack, to reduce the inflammation. Treat the sting for 15 minutes, then give yourself a 15-minute break. Repeat this cycle a few times for optimal effect. Also, don't put ice directly on your skin.
- Keep the stung skin elevated to reduce swelling.
- Apply a hydrocortisone cream on the skin for immediate itch relief.
- Take an antihistamine to manage itching long-term. This is recommended for bedtime, as antihistamines can cause drowsiness.
- If itching is intense, take an oatmeal bath.
- For more severe welts, you may need topical or oral steroids.
Try not to scratch the bites. This usually only makes things worse because it opens up the bites and irritates the skin.
Should I See a Doctor for An Ant Bite?
According to the Mayo Clinic, some people have severe reactions to insect bites, which require emergency medical care. If you're experiencing any of the following symptoms, go to the emergency room right away:
- Difficulty breathing
- Swelling of the lips, eyelids or throat
- Dizziness, faintness or confusion
- Rapid heartbeat
- Nausea, cramps of vomiting
How to Prevent Ant Bites
The best way to avoid being stung by an ant is to be vigilant and control populations in and around your home. In the case of fire ants, you can minimize your risk by paying attention to your surroundings when outdoors and taking care not to step on a fire ant mound.
If you're working in the yard, wear protective clothing, like thick socks and boots. Put on gloves if you're gardening.
If you do notice a fire ant on your body, remove it with your hand. Spraying fire ants with water may cause them to latch onto your skin with their jaws. This is a common defense mechanism.
How to Control Ants
Because there are so many species of ants and they can live in large colonies, they can be difficult for homeowners to control. Baits are effective on some species, but others may require treatment of the entire colony. Additionally, identification of ant species can be tricky, and this step is crucial to determining the proper treatment method.
Due to the challenges associated with effectively controlling ants yourself, it is recommended that you consult a pest control professional when dealing with infestations on your property. Terminix® offers ant control — get your free quote today.
Related: Don't DIY That: Ant Control