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Paddling with Solenopsis invicta

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Schessl | Green Wave Forum
Published Sunday, November 25, 2007

Hey, isn't that a new kind of boat or maybe a sea kayaker from Norway? Give up? Unless you are a biologist the name Solenopsis invicta probably doesn't mean much. It's the scientific name for the Red Imported Fire Ant and for anyone living in the southern United States; it's a real pain. Literally.

I'm including this swell photo of my left foot, near the ankle to show you the effect of about 38 fire ant stings. The photo was taken about 24 hours after it happened. Yes, fire ants sting, along with a small bite. For those unfamiliar, the stings burn and itch like mad. A small pustule forms for each sting and one month later, scaring remains.

Why write an article on fire ants? Because if you are a Florida paddler (or Georgia paddler or Alabama Paddler or Texas Paddler) you'll want to know how to avoid them and what to do to treat the stings.

The Green Wave Forum Fire Ant FAQ:

1. What do Fire Ants look like?

Fire Ants range from 1/16 to 1/5 inch in length. Their bodies have 3 sections, 3 pairs of legs and 1 pair of antenna. They are usually dark reddish brown in color. Fire Ants build mounds generally up to 18 inches in diameter and 12 inches high. They are aggressive and quickly swarm any intruder.  

2. Do Fire Ants bite?

Yes and no. They use their jaws to anchor themselves and then deliver a sting from the tip of their abdomen, like a bee or wasp. A single ant can sting repeatedly.

3. How do I avoid Fire Ants?

First, don't be like me and step into a mound and not pay attention until they swarm. Look for their sandy mounds and keep away. Fire ants are fast and generally will get on you in 5 to 10 seconds. Next, wear protective clothing like shoes, socks and long pants. Finally, watch for foraging ants that may “invite” others to the area.

4. What causes Fire Ant stings to hurt and form pustules?

According to a 1992 Wilford Hall Medical Center study, the fire ant venom contains both alkaloids and proteins. The alkaloid is responsible for local cell necosis (killing cells). In some individuals, the proteins can lead to allergic reaction. Pustules can become infected if not kept clean and may leave permanent scars.

5. Have Fire Ants ever killed anyone?

According to the Wikipedia article 80 people have been killed as of 2006.

6. What do I do if stung by a Fire Ant?

First, remove the ants by wiping them off with your hand or other object. Since they latch on with their jaws, jumping in water will not help. Check your body and clothing, others may have crawled up your other leg, be on your arm, etc. In my last case, I got 38 stings on my left foot, another 25+ on my right and a few more on each leg all the way to my rear.

7. How do I treat Fire Ant stings?

Immediately after being stung, wash off the area with alcohol and try not to scratch it so it doesn't get infected. Commercial preparations such as StingEze will numb the area for a while. A thick paste of baking soda and water can also help. Careful application of ice will help decrease pain, but can burn the skin if left on too long. If the pustule becomes infected, apply an antibiotic and see your doctor. Benedryl may help with local reactions: burning and itching. Follow label instructions carefully.

If other reactions occur soon after the stings, i.e., difficulty breathing, itchy rash, loss of consciousness, etc., get the person to an emergency room immediately.

8. Where did you get this info?

A big thanks goes to Larry Gilbert at the University of Texas, Austin for his Imported Fire Ant FAQ ( and to Wikipedia contributors (

Last update Tuesday, November 27, 2007

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Cmt Paddling with Solenopsis invictaLogin to Post   
You are in the public comment zone. What follows is not from Green Wave Forum; it comes from other people and we don't vouch for it.
ed on 11/26/2007 10:47am
Thx for both tips! Grin
bkodriver on 11/26/2007 8:51am
NICE!!! Its mound not mount, and toothpaste works great for fire ant bites!! Takes the sting right out.