The red-imported fire ant is one of the most feared insect species in the United States, and for good reason, as these invasive insects have been known to swarm onto the human body where they inflict numerous stings that are extremely painful, and in rare cases, deadly. In addition to posing a public health risk in the southeastern US, red fire ants rapidly infest yards in residential areas, where they create many unsightly mounds, making the property surrounding houses dangerous to residents. Once one yard within a neighborhood becomes infested with red fire ants, neighboring yards often become infested as well. Red fire ants also pose a significant threat to people in parks, school playgrounds, and just about every outdoor area of Georgia, as the red imported fire ant has established a presence within every county in the state. Since the red imported fire ant is an invasive species in the US, much research has been conducted on their negative ecological impact in the country, but surprisingly little scientific attention has been paid to personal protective measures against fire ant stings.
When a human disturbs a fire ant mound, the ants quickly swarm in massive numbers onto the person’s body where they inflict a bite to hold themselves in place in order to insert their stinger into the skin. Entomologists state that insect repellents that contain DEET can, indeed, repel fire ants while they forage, but these repellents will not deter fire ants from swarming and stinging a human once they become angry. This is true even if DEET repellents are sprayed directly onto the insects after they angrily emerge from their mound. One of the few studies to investigate personal protection measures against red imported fire ant stings found that no repellent product exists that can prevent angry fire ants from stinging humans, but the study did find, oddly enough, that commercially available socks made from cotton can serve as a barrier that prevents stings. The study’s authors also stated that fire ants are not likely to inflict stings through cotton tights.
Have you ever found a red imported fire ant mound?