Here are some steps on how you can protect yourself against these stinging intruders.
What are Fire Ants?
The fire ant is a common name for several species of ant in the Solenopsis genus. Although generally not invasive, certain fire ants can pose a threat to people. Red Imported Fire Ants, or RIFA, are dark reddish-brown ants that were believed to be carried from South America via shipping crates.
These fire ants build mounds on grass lawns, pastures, and garden beds. Their nests are usually 18-24 inches in height and are commonly located in sunny areas in yards. These ants are very aggressive and attack its perceived intruder in swarms. Red imported fire ants have mandibles which they use to anchor to the skin while the stingers located in the abdomen venom into the skin of the victim. A single fire ant can repeatedly sting until it is removed from one’s body or until the victim dies.
Protecting One’s Self from Getting Bitten
Fire ants can be spotted if you pay attention to their mound and where you step on the ground. Once detected, it is best to avoid having contact with them.
Here are several tips on how you can protect yourself and your family against fire ants:
1. Watch where you step. A major reason people get stung is stepping without paying attention to where they place their feet. Learn from these people, and watch where you place your feet. Merely standing near the mound can instantly disturb them and cause hundreds of fire ants to come out, so imagine what would happen if you were to step on the nest accidentally.
2. Wear protective clothing when camping. Long sleeves and pants can help create a barrier between your skin and the ants. Although it may not completely protect you from getting bitten, it can reduce the number of ant bites that you sustain.
3. Use gloves if you need to lift or move objects from the ground. Fire ants can reside under rotting logs, garbage, or dead animals. It’s a good idea to check underneath any objects before lifting them.
4. Keep a close eye on children. Kids left on their own can unintentionally disturb a fire ant mound. If you brought a stroller or baby carrier, make sure it is stationed far from any ant mound.
5. Use insect repellent. When out in a field or forest, applying insect repellent can help keep insects at bay. Spraying it on your shoes and clothing can also help prevent insect bites and stings. Tent exteriors can also be sprayed with insect repellent.
Pour a mixture of water and vinegar in a spray bottle and spray it around the perimeter of your campsite. If you don’t have vinegar with you, you can use cinnamon powder or coffee grounds.
6. Keep food containers sealed. If possible, store them away from your sleeping area and never place food inside your tent. Don’t leave food on the table and always wash utensils immediately after use.
7. If fire ants are seen crawling on the skin, immediately brush them off with hands. Don’t flush them with water as they can latch to your skin with their jaws. If found on your clothing, remove your clothes immediately and shake them off. Check the folds of your pants and shirt for ants. They can hide in these folds and attack you unknowingly.
How to Spot a Fire Ant Bite?
One fire ant can sting you several times. They can also attack in swarms and will target your feet, legs, or any part that may come in contact with their mound. If you get stung by a red imported fire ant, you’re likely to notice it as the sting leaves a burning or stinging sensation.
Fire ant sting marks start as small red lumps which will settle down after a few hours, and turn into blisters filled with pus-like substance. If the affected area gets infected, scarring can be expected upon healing.
Treating the Affected Area
Reaction to fire ants varies from person to person. Multiple ant stings can cause discomfort and even severe allergic reaction.
Once bitten by fire ants, immediately wash the area with soap and water. The affected part may swell and feel tender, so applying ice can help reduce the swelling. Also, topical over-the-counter steroids and aloe vera-based creams can help lessen the inflammation. The skin can feel painful and itchy, so it’s best to leave the affected area alone. To prevent further irritation and infection, cover it with a bandage and avoid scratching the affected area.
If someone in your group is stung and he/she experiences severe allergic reaction such as difficulty breathing, swallowing, dizziness, and/or nausea after being stung by fire ants, they should seek immediate medical attention to prevent anaphylaxis. Individuals who have allergies to insect bites should consult first with their doctors before going on a hiking or camping activity. It is wise to carry an EpiPen.
Enjoy a worry-free camping or hiking getaway by following these tips. Share your ant-free tips by commenting below.