Bug Blog

 Tucson Woman Nearly Died In Response To Countless Native Fire Ant Stings, Which Raised Questions About The Public Health Importance Of Native Fire Ants In The State

When it comes to venomous ant species, the red-imported fire ant is probably the first, and only species that comes to most people’s mind. The red-imported fire ant is an invasive species in the southeastern states and southern California, and luckily, the red-imported fire ant was eradicated from Arizona shortly after colonies appeared in the southwestern region of the state several years ago. Of course, the red-imported fire ant is not the only fire ant species that exists, and a few more native and invasive fire ant species can be found in various regions throughout the US. 

Most of the ant species that are commonly referred to as “fire ants” belong to the Solenopsis ant genus, which is comprised of 200 documented species worldwide. In the US, the red and black-imported fire ant species are the most well known of their kind, but Arizona is home to three native fire ant species, and an additional non-native species may be found in the state on occasion. While most people have likely never heard of “native” fire ant species in the US, the three inhabiting Arizona have inflicted stings to humans that have resulted in serious medical complications, and even death.

S. xyloni, S. aurea and S. amblychila are the three native fire ant species that can be found in Arizona. The latter two species are both commonly referred to as desert fire ants, while the most common fire ant pest species in Arizona, S. xyloni, is commonly known as the southern fire ant. Some sources claim that a fourth fire ant species, the tropical fire ant, can also be found in Arizona, but most sources state that these ants are not found west of Texas. The southern fire ant frequently infests homes in Arizona, and medically significant stinging incidents involving these ants are not rare in the state. 

Desert fire ants are not often encountered in Arizona, and they are typically dismissed as harmless to humans, but a case report published earlier this year describes an incident in Tucson involving a woman who went into shock in response to sustaining countless stings from S. aurea, or desert fire ants. The effects of the venom caused the woman’s red blood cells to rupture, and her body was covered in numerous pussy lesions. The report did not mention whether or not the woman survived the attack, but this case emphasized the need to better understand the public health threat posed by native fire ants in urban areas.

Have you ever sustained a bite or a sting from any ant species?