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Diagnosis and care of fire ant stings

September 28, 2010

Fire ants (genus Solenopsis) are accidentally introduced from South America. They are small, red ants with blackish abdomens. Many ant species bite and spray organic acids, but this ant will sting you. The fire ant venom (a cocktail including the necrotic alkaloid solenopsin) cause an immediate burning pain. The day after, you normally see two small pustules (they normally sting you twice) in the centre of a large swollen area which feels stiff. The pain and itching can go on for several days. I personally think these are the nastiest stings in a tropical garden, worse than hornets and scorpions. The native red weaver ants, Oecophylla smaragdina, are much larger and lack black colours. Their bites are nothing in comparison with fire ants.

After a sting, you should take two Aerius antihistamine tablets (5mg), and wash the stung areas with soap and water. You should also apply hydrocortisone on the affected area after washing. This general cure for any painful insect sting will greatly reduce the symptoms. A bite from the arboreal red weaver ant does not need any treatment.

Back in 2006 fire ants were common at Dokmai Garden, but the transformation from a dry pesticide-managed longan monoculture to an irrigated and biodiversity rich garden with natural enemies (parasitoids, mites, nematodes, fungi and other competing ant species) has made the fire ants quite rare. Other management changes here are mowing instead of fire.

Eric Danell

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