Ant stings are not traditionally associated with allergic reactions that lead to potentially deadly cases of anaphylactic shock, but after the red imported fire ant arrived in the United States, medical professionals developed a better understanding concerning the risk that ants pose to individuals with an allergic sensitivity to ant stings. The red imported fire ant is most abundant within the southeast United States, and they are constantly expanding their invasive habitat. In some urban areas that are infested with red imported fire ants, 50 percent of the population is stung by the ants each year, and up to 17 percent of some populations have become sensitized to their stings. Two other fire ant species that are native to North America have also been documented as causing severe allergic reactions with their stings. Although red imported fire ants may be the most deadly ants in America, they are not the most venomous; instead, the most venomous group of ants in the US are harvester ants. These ants are especially dangerous to residents of Tucson where the Maricopa harvester ant and the rough harvester ant send several residents of the city to the emergency room each year.
Surprisingly, harvester ant venom is not only more venomous than fire ant venom, but their venom is even more potent than rattlesnake venom. Luckily, harvester ants inject far less venom into the bloodstream than rattlesnakes. One study that aimed to establish the public health hazard posed by harvester ants focused on eight Tucson residents who sustained harvester ant stings in a one year period. Four of these patients experienced severe pain and swelling at the site of the sting wound, and the other four suffered anaphylactic shock following their stings. Harvester ant stings have been described as feeling like muscles being torn apart and these ants are particularly abundant within urban areas of Tucson.
Have you ever seen a harvester ant or sustained one of their stings?