Health Conditions A-Z Skin, Hair & Nail Conditions Everything You Need To Know About Ant Bites You should definitely watch where you step—here's why. By Maggie O'Neill Maggie O'Neill Maggie O'Neill's Twitter Maggie O’Neill is a health writer and reporter based in New York who specializes in covering medical research and emerging wellness trends, with a focus on cancer and addiction. Prior to her time at Health, her work appeared in the Observer, Good Housekeeping, CNN, and Vice. She was a fellow of the Association of Health Care Journalists’ 2020 class on Women’s Health Journalism and 2021 class on Cancer Reporting. In her spare time, she likes meditating, watching TikToks, and playing fetch with her dog, Finnegan. health's editorial guidelines Updated on May 28, 2023 Medically reviewed by Daniel More, MD Medically reviewed by Daniel More, MD Daniel More, MD, FAAAAI, FACAAI, FACP, is a board-certified allergist and clinical immunologist at Allergy Partners of the Central California Coast. learn more Share this page on Facebook Share this page on Twitter Share this page on Pinterest Email this page 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: Diarrhea Low blood pressure Rapid heart rate Shortness of breath Throat swelling Vomiting The stings can also cause a life-threatening reaction called anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis may include symptoms of: Difficulty breathingHivesLoss of consciousnessPalpitationsSwelling in the throat Bed Bug Bites vs. Flea Bites: How To Tell the Difference 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. Treatment 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. Wasp Stings: Symptoms, Treatments, Prevention How To Prevent Ant Bites Fortunately, there are ways to prevent ant bites. They include: Being careful when lifting objects from the groundCovering the hem of your pants with socks or bootsKeeping 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. What Do Chigger Bites Look Like? 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. Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! Tell us why! Other Submit 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. US Environmental Protection Agency. Ants and schools. The National Wildlife Federation. Ants. Touchard A, Aili S, Fox E, et al. The biochemical toxin arsenal from ant venoms. Toxins. 2016;8(1):30. doi:10.3390/toxins8010030 Srisong H, Sukprasert S, Klaynongsruang S, Daduang J, Daduang S. Identification, expression and characterization of the recombinant Sol g 4.1 protein from the venom of the tropical fire ant Solenopsis geminata. Journal of Venomous Animals and Toxins including Tropical Diseases. 2018;24(1):23. doi:10.1186/s40409-018-0159-6 MedlinePlus. Fire ants. American Osteopathic College of Dermatology. Fire ant bites. MedlinePlus. Anaphylaxis. Kruse B, Anderson J, Simon LV. Fire ant bites. In: StatPearls. StatPearls Publishing; 2023. American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology.Immunoglobulin E (IgE) defined. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Fire ants.