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Treating Fire Ant Bites

Levitra low priceom: 10px;” title=”West Palm Beach skyline from Southern Blvd. 09-22-2010″ src=”×106.jpg” alt=”” width=”500″ height=”106″ />I posted some photos of a Palm Beach Full Moon ride the other day. In it I mentioned getting attacked by fire ants while shooting this photo of the West Palm Beach skyline from the Southern Blvd. causeway between Palm Beach and West Palm Beach.

Here’s a link to a sunset photo of West Palm Beach, the full moon and The Breakers Hotel taken during happier moments of the ride.

Stabbed with red-hot ice pick

Here’s the photo I shot just as I thought someone had jabbed my ankle with a red-hot ice pick. If you’ve lived in Florida, and, I suspect, most Southern states, you know that feeling. You’ve have managed to tick off a mound of fire ants.

I quickly did the Fire Ant Shuffle, grabbed a light and started brushing them off my legs around my ankle area. You do NOT want to spray them with water. That just makes them grab on all the harder.

(The Fire Ant Shuffle is not to be confused with Mathilde’s Frog Dance performed under a Lake O Full Moon.)

Fire ants attack without provocation

Suite101 has some great info about fire ants: Fire ants bite without provocation; simply walking within 15 feet of a fire ant’s anthill is enough to spur an attack from these aggressive ants. The fire ant sting is painful and understandably so, as the ant uses its mandibles to literally bite away a tiny chunk of skin while simultaneously injecting a venom. According to, if left in place, the fire ant will pivot and begin to inflict bites in a circular pattern.

First aid for fire ant bites

I didn’t realize that I had been nailed so many times. I always carry some Sting-Kill insect bite swabs on the bike. They’re designed for bee stings, but I’ve found them effective for jellyfish and fire ants, too. They are a plastic-covered glass ampule with a swab on one end. You crush the ampule, which causes a mixture of Benzocaine, Menthol and Isopropanol to flow onto the swab.

Swabs last forever, are easy to use

I like them because they are one-use-only, last forever and work to relieve the symptoms of a bite.
I didn’t bother to pull a swab out this night, because I thought I had only been nailed once.

Where can I get Sting-Kill Swabs

Some folks have said they are available at Walmart, but I haven’t been able to find them locally. Sting-Kill Swabs are available from several vendors through Amazon.
I’m going to try a different brand, Soothe-A-Sting Insect Sting Swabs, that looks the same as the Sting-Kills, but is cheaper. I’ll post an update when they come in.

What do fire ant bites look like?

I’m going to run this photo small. Click to enlarge at your own risk
The evening after I was bitten, my ankle area began to itch and burn. When I took a closer look, I saw about a dozen bites, indicated by red marks and white pustules. Just rubbing against the sheet was enough to trigger the burning and itching sensation.
My first attempt to reduce the symptoms was to wash the area carefully, then apply Benadryl Gel to the bites. That didn’t help much.

Cortisone cream provided relief

Then I remember that my dermatologist had prescribed a cortisone cream for a rash some time back. He said that it would be good for insect bites, as well. He was correct. The cream brought the itching and burning down to bearable levels.
I told Wife Lila that the bites almost look like perforations ar0und my sock line. I hope my foot doesn’t break off along the dotted line.

Don’t squeeze the pustules

One thing I WON’T do is squeeze or break the white pustules. I’m told that will only push the infection deeper into the skin and increase the chances of scarring. If things don’t look better by mid-week, I’ll head off to the doctor. Generally, though, these things usually start to clear up in about a week.

8 comments to Treating Fire Ant Bites

  • Carey

    Thanks, Ken. I haven’t had the pleasure yet of being attacked but this has helped me to prepare… and will carry those vials of hero-in-a-bottle.

  • Horace

    Fascinating. I don’t think I’ve ever encountered these, but according to maps on the web, fire ants have a really large range, including all the west coast states.

  • I don’t need to watch out for those near Cape Girardeau, do I? I carry benadryl with me in my bike bag. I don’t know if I’ve ever used it myself, but I’ve come to the rescue of children who have been stung by ground bees.

  • John,

    I haven’t looked at a map to see how far the ants have spread, but they weren’t a problem when I was a kid.

    Different things will bite you in different parts of the country. We don’t have chiggers in SE FL, but we do have fire ants and no-see-ums.

    Chiggers, mosquitoes and ticks will be your biggest problem going through the Cape area.

  • I can’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve been stung. These anthills have thousands each in them and are populous around cattle fields, and any fields, and at the base of trees. I don’t think they do well in cold – maybe that’s why you don’t see them in real snow states.
    The worst encounter I had was one summer when I mowed over one on my cousin’s farm in South Alabama (Opp was the city).
    The ants swarmed up my ankles and covered them in a red army within seconds. I did pressure-wash them off with a hose, but not before they had stung me enough to have both ankles swell to twice their size, fully infected all around. My aunt returned from Pensacola, where she had been taking care of a sick husband, and took a look; I was sent to the doc the next day to get a cortisone shot and cream. These are serious stingers; deaths from the ants have been reported, especially among young victims and those allergic to stings.

  • Jan,

    The pressure wash may have done you more harm than good. The link above contains this advice:

    Notably, fire ants will bite and clamp down on the skin if you attempt to wash them off with a hose or similar. Therefore, fire ants must be brushed off; they cannot be rinsed off during an attack.

  • I brushed and swatted too, believe me! Served to get me stung on my hands, too – they were seriously angry ants. This much toxin did bring on a fever and nausea, by the way.

  • I did the fire ant shuffle once during a thunderstorm in Louisiana. The worst ants I’ve encountered were in Australia: They were about half an inch long with huge mandibles. When they grabbed you it was a horrible pain that didn’t end until you had separated the ant body from its head, it wouldn’t let go, and then you had to pick out the mandibles with fingernails, or a knife. Later it was funny.