Everything You Need To Know About Ant Bites

You should definitely watch where you step—here's why.

Spider bites, flea bites, or even bee stings may come up first when talking about bugs and their interactions with humans. Still, there's one well-known—but lesser-suspected—type of bug that can leave a pretty nasty mark: ants.

Ant bites aren't always bites. The bites are usually stings and cause what is felt as a bite. These bites can also lead to painful or itchy spots and may also result in allergic reactions.

Here's what you need to know about ant bites—including symptoms, treatments, and prevention techniques—just in case you come across them.

What Ants Can Cause Bites?

Ant bites in the United States are actually stings, and the usual culprits are imported fire ants.

There are quite a few different species of ants—over 12,000 species exist—but not all of them sting. Of the different species of ants, 71% of them sting. The rest include species that spray their venom or swarm and bite.

How Do Ant Bites Happen?

Fire ants sting you by first latching onto your skin with their jaws. After that, they sting you multiple times, making a circle as they go. In stinging you, the ants also unleash venom into the sting, which contains a chemical called piperidine. This chemical causes the pustules—pus-filled blisters—that eventually appear.

Signs and Symptoms of Ant Bites

The most common reaction to a fire ant sting or bite is a red, raised welt. The following day, the welt will go down, but a pustule will likely take its place. Additionally, fire ant bites can cause itching, burning, and pain.

Note: Though the pustules are itchy, try to avoid scratching them. Doing so could result in a secondary skin infection if the pustules are broken.

Daniel Wojcik - USDA Agricultural Research Service

When To See a Healthcare Provider

If you are stung by fire ants, seek emergency or poison center care. Some individuals who get bit by a fire ant experience more than a localized reaction on the skin. It's possible to be allergic to fire ant stings. The stings could cause:

The stings can also cause a life-threatening reaction called anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis may include symptoms of:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Hives
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Palpitations
  • Swelling in the throat

Diagnosing Ant Bites

When a healthcare provider is diagnosing an ant bite, they'll look for the pustule that occurs in the place or places affected. It's helpful if they know the type of ant responsible.

They can determine the most specific diagnosis by conducting a skin test designed to detect immunoglobulin E (IgE), which is an immune system antibody.


Your treatment depends on the severity of your reaction. If red welts are your only symptom, your treatment will be focused on local care. You can use treatment options such as topical hydrocortisone, oral antihistamines, or cold compresses.

Pustules that break need to be cleaned with soap and water, followed by antibiotic cream. If broken pustules are infected, treatment can include an antimicrobial.

Take an oral antihistamine immediately if you already know you're allergic to ant bites. For severe reactions because of a fire ant allergy, use an epinephrine injector—or an EpiPen—and seek emergency medical attention.

How To Prevent Ant Bites

Fortunately, there are ways to prevent ant bites. They include:

  • Being careful when lifting objects from the ground
  • Covering the hem of your pants with socks or boots
  • Keeping an eye out for any ant mounds and not disturbing them

Also, anytime you're outside in a southern state, you should be mindful of your surroundings: Fire ants are mainly a problem in southern states in the United States.

A Quick Review

Mainly found in the southern states, fire ants are red-colored ants that build earth mounds. If the mounds are disturbed, the ants can swarm and "bite"—or, technically, sting.

Reactions to ant stings can vary from mild to severe. Severe allergic reactions will require a trip to the emergency room. If you have a known allergy to ant stings, keep an epinephrine injector on you, especially if you're in an area with fire ants. Otherwise, try cool compresses and antihistamines to help calm any welts or irritation, and take measures to prevent getting stung in the first place.

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10 Sources
Health.com uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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