With more than 12,000 ant species in the world, the answer to “do ants bite?” is a resounding yes! In fact, all species of ants can bite if they so choose. What we should be asking, however, is will ants bite? And the answer to that question depends on the species of ant.
Which Ant Species Do Bite?
The ant species most likely to bite are those species that are known for being aggressive. Examples of these ant species include the bulldog ant, the fire ant, the army ant, the bullet ant, and the Florida harvester ant.
Many aggressive ant species are not native to North America, however, so there is little chance that you will come into contact with them.
Aggressive ant species that do live in the United States include the fire ant, the Florida harvester ant, the acrobat ant, and the European fire ant.
That isn’t to say that these are the only ant species in North America that will bite, rather, they are the most likely to bite. Most other ant species in North America will retreat rather than confront a threat and will bite only went provoked or in defense of their nest or colony.
How Do Ants Bite?
Ants have two pincer-like tools that extend from the front of the head, these are called mandibles. A close-up view of an ant’s mandibles will show that the two mandibles come together like pincers and often have a serrated inside edge where the two meet.
When an ant bites, they clamp on with these mandibles. Stinging ants don’t clamp on for fear that you will get away, rather, they clamp on to create an anchor so that they can swivel around to sting you!
Ants don’t just use their mandibles for clamping on to things to sting them – some ants don’t sting! – Ant mandibles have a full range of functions and different ant species have differently shaped and sized mandibles that are specialized for specific activities. For example, some ants use their mandibles to decapitate insect prey!
Ants also rely on their mandibles to:
- Dig tunnels in the nest
- To carry dirt and waste material away from the living area of the nest
- To communicate with each other
- To chew food
- To dismantle larger prey
- To defend the colony if attacked
- To hunt living prey like other insects
What Causes Ants To Bite?
Ants that do bite usually bite when their colony is disturbed, for example, if you step on a fire ant mound. The ants in the colony feel the disturbance in their colony and perceive it as a threat, they then attack what they see as threatening.
Ants also bite when attacking a food source. Ants are omnivorous and while the ants that most of us are familiar with eat sugary treats in our kitchens, some ant species are predatory. Predatory ants mostly eat other insects (and some ant species.)
Ants Don’t Just Bite!
Ants don’t just bite, they also sting. There are three types of stinging ants in North America – harvester ants, fire ants, and oak ants. Of these three species of stinging ant, the fire ant is the most aggressive and will sting and bite multiple times.
Only female ants have a stinger, male ants do not. The male ant’s main purpose is to inseminate the queen of the colony, after which he is kicked out of the colony and eventually he dies.
Why Do Some Ants Sting and Bite?
Some ant species like fire ants sting and bite because each action has a different purpose. The fire ant bites to grip prey using its mandibles and then stings.
Do Ants Bite Animals Too?
Ants don’t just bite humans, they also bite animals. Fire ants, for example, will attack pets and animals if their colony is disturbed and if the animal can’t escape, they can die.
Can Ant Bites Kill People?
In some instances, ants can kill people.
Fire ants bite and hold onto victims and inject venom using a stinger on their hind end. While most fire ant victims do not die, those who do, most often die from allergic reactions that induce anaphylaxis.
What is the Deadliest Ant Bite?
The deadliest ant in the world is the bulldog ant. The bulldog ant is particularly aggressive and once it latches on it will sting repeatedly while injecting increasing amounts of venom. While most ants are fearful of humans, the bulldog ant isn’t so timid.
The venom of the bulldog ant is extremely toxic and has killed victims of attacks in as little as fifteen minutes!
This ant species is native to Australia and doesn’t often come into contact with humans.
Do Ant Bites Hurt?
Yes! Some species of ant bite hurt more than others, although technically, the pain mostly comes felt from the sting of an ant and not the bite.
Fire ants, as we mentioned previously, bite and sting. In the northern U.S., fire ants can be found in AL, AK, CA, FL, GA, LA, MS, NM, NC, OK, PR, SC, TN, TX, AND VA. They have also been seen in KY, MO, and MD.
When disturbed, fire ants will swarm the perceived threat, bite, and then sting repeatedly. With each sting, the ants inject alkaloid venom which is called solenopsin.
Fire ant mounts look like small volcanos made from soil and are most often found in wide-open areas like parks and fields. Stepping on or disturbing one of these nests will send a frenzy of fire ants into attack mode. The ants will swarm as a group, bite and latch on before stinging.
Florida Harvester Ants
Florida harvester ants also bite and sting, however, they are not as aggressive of a species as fire ants. If the Florida harvester ant colony is disturbed, the ants will bite and sting. When the ant bites, it grips its prey and holds it firmly while pivoting its body around to sting.
The Florida harvester ant bite is among the most painful of ant bites. After biting, the ant injects an alkaloid-based poison. This poison contains pheromones which serve as a beacon to other ants in the colony.
Although called the “Florida harvester ant,” this species can be found from Florida up to North Carolina.
Florida harvest ant mounds are usually made from sand and like fire ants, they like to nest in large grassy areas. Nests are also found in woodlands and front yards! Nests look like small mounds of sand. If the ants have recently moved a nest, there may also be a trail of sand leading from one nest site to the other.
Acrobat ants are so-named because they look like acrobats when they move while holding their abdomen in the air.
The acrobat ant can bite and sting but is usually only aggressive if the colony is disturbed. Acrobat ant bites (stings) are not as painful as bites from red ants or Florida harvester ants, but they can cause pain, itching, redness, and swelling.
Acrobat ants sometimes inject a little venom after biting prey, but they can also “wipe” venom onto prey. This venom serves to call other ants from the colony. If the prey item is food, the worker ants will carry it back to the colony on their backs.
Acrobat ants are found throughout North America.
Acrobat ant nests are always located in damp areas, but they can be found in the wild as well as in human-inhabited areas. In the wild, a nest is often located inside rotten wood, when they invade homes, nests are found behind siding or in roofing material!
European Fire Ants
European fire ants are biting and stinging ants and they can be aggressive and repeatedly sting their prey. Most European fire ant stings happen when the colony is accidentally disturbed.
The sting of the European fire ant is painful and causes a burning sensation. After biting, this ant injects an alkaloid venom. These ants are a very small species, but they attack in large numbers.
The European fire ant is most often found in the northeast United States.
European fire ant nests are found in similar areas to acrobat ant nests – in damp and decaying wood, under damp leaves, or rocks. Unlike traditional fire ants, the European fire ant does not build a large mound. This is also not an ant species that you will find nesting in your home!
What To Do If You Are Bitten/Stung By Ants
If you get stung by ants, hold ice on the sting for fifteen minutes at a time with fifteen-minute breaks in between. Keep the sting area elevated and apply hydrocortisone cream. You can also take an antihistamine.
After ant stings, the site of the stings will be itchy, but the itch should resolve within thirty to sixty minutes. Within a day or so, you may notice that you develop a blister at the sting site.
Symptoms of a more serious reaction include hives, nausea, diarrhea, dizziness, significant swelling, chest tightening, stomach cramping, trouble breathing, or throat swelling. If you experience any of these symptoms, get medical attention right away.
If you do experience a more severe reaction, emergency medical treatment may include epinephrine to decrease airway swelling.