Ant bites are common and occur if an insect feels threatened and tries to defend itself from a human. Ants will leave a pimple-like mark on your skin. Fire ants can leave painful, itchy blisters on your skin after a bite. Bites usually go away after a week. Ant bites can cause allergic reactions.
Ants are insects that defend themselves by biting with jaws and pinchers on their heads or stingers on their bottoms if they feel threatened by humans. Most ants are not a threat to humans.
During an ant bite, the ant will grab your skin with its pinchers and release a chemical called formic acid into your skin. Some people are allergic to formic acid and could experience an allergic reaction from the ant bite.
Some ants will sting and inject venom into your skin. Ant stings can be very painful.
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Ants are insects from the Formicidae family. They range in size based on the type of ant but are between 2 millimeters to 25 millimeters in length. Ants are usually black, brown or red in color and have segmented bodies (head, thorax and abdomen) connected by a narrow waist. Ants have two antennae and six legs.
With the exception of Greenland, Iceland, Antarctica and certain island nations, ants are found almost everywhere on the planet. They typically live in decaying plants or mounds of soil and leaves.
There are over 12,000 species of ants in the world and all ants live in groups (colonies that are similar to bees). Some ants are harmless to humans, while others can bite or sting to defend themselves. Some of the most common ants that bite and sting include:
Ant bites can affect anyone. Ant bites and stings occur on people who enter an ant’s habitat. This could be unintentional, for example, if you stepped barefoot on an ant mound (an ant colony home). Ants bite as a reaction to feeling threatened and bite or sting to protect themselves.
The exact rate of how frequently ants bite humans is unknown because many cases go unreported. Ant bites are common, especially among people who live in environments where ants live. Fire ant bites and stings are most common in the southern United States because they thrive in warm temperatures.
Depending on the type of ant that bit you, an ant bite can range from being painless to severely painful. Most ants do not have pinchers that are large enough to harm humans. Fire ants are the most painful since they release venom under your skin when they sting you. If you are allergic to the chemical ants produce when they bite or sting, the bite will affect you more severely than someone who is not allergic to the ant.
Symptoms of ant bites range in severity based on what type of ant bit you. Bites can occur anywhere on your body but ants usually bite on your feet, legs or hands if you come into direct contact with an ant mound or colony.
Symptoms for an ant bite include:
Fire ants bite and sting humans if they feel threatened. In addition to the bite symptoms above, symptoms of an ant sting include:
It's important not to scratch ant bites, which could break the skin and lead to an infection.
Severe fire ant stings can lead to intense burning and pain for a short period of time. Often, you will experience several stings at the same time because fire ants typically attack in groups. Itching could last for a few days after the sting occurs.
Some people experience allergic reactions after being bitten by an ant. Symptoms of an allergic reaction from an ant bite include:
Although rare, severe allergic reactions can lead to mastocytosis or anaphylaxis and are life-threatening, so call 911 or visit the emergency room immediately if you experience any symptoms of an allergic reaction.
Ant bites are unique from other types of insect bites or stings. Ant bites form a mark on your skin that resembles a pimple. The mark is red to purple in color and elevated from the rest of your skin around it. The bite pimple can look like a bullseye, especially if you experience a sting from a fire ant that forms a pus-filled blister where there is a dark red circle around the elevated, light pink to white blister.
Ants release a chemical called formic acid onto your skin when they bite. The release of this acid, along with the pinch from their mandibles, causes symptoms of an ant bite. Some people are allergic to formic acid, which can cause a reaction in your body beyond the site of the ant bite.
Similar to ant bites, when ants sting, they release venom into your skin. Your body reacts to the small amount of venom by causing symptoms.
Your healthcare provider will diagnose an ant bite or sting by a visual examination of the skin around the bite or sting, followed by an evaluation of your medical history and questions regarding your exposure to environments where ants live.
Often, mild cases of ant bites go undiagnosed because symptoms only cause short-term discomfort and the bite heals on its own without treatment.
Ant bites usually go away on their own and don't need treatment, but treatment is available to alleviate your symptoms if they cause discomfort. Most treatment options are available at home and do not require an office visit to see your healthcare provider unless your symptoms are severe.
If you notice you have an ant bite or sting, immediately wash the bite area with antibacterial soap and water to prevent infections.
Treatment for ant bites and stings includes:
If you can trap and/or kill the ant that bit you, identifying the ant helps your provider offer the right treatment.
Depending on what type of ant bite you have, the bite or sting can turn into a blister. It might be tempting to pop the blister, but don’t pop it! Popping a blister could lead to an infection. An infection is when bacteria and germs enter your body. Signs of an infection include:
Always use caution around the blister and treat it like you would treat a cut or a wound by washing it with antibacterial soap and water and covering it up with a bandage.
Ant bites usually go away after a few days. Stings from fire ants last longer based on how much venom they release under your skin. It typically takes anywhere from three to seven days for a fire ant sting to go away and for you to feel better. If you don’t feel better after a week to ten days, contact your healthcare provider.
When you are in an environment where ants live, take steps to prevent ant bites by:
If you receive an ant bite, you will likely have a small, red, pimple-like mark on your skin. The bite could last for a few days before it disappears.
For a sting from a fire ant, you might develop a bump on your skin that forms within an hour after the sting. A few hours later, the bump turns into a blister filled with pus. You might experience symptoms of itchiness at the bite site, but don’t itch the bite because you could break open the blister. This puts you at risk of infection.
When your skin recovers from an ant bite, you may have a small scar from the bite or sting. Scars are most common if you accidentally break open a blister from scratching at it.
Allergic reactions from bites and stings are rare but can happen. If you experience symptoms of an allergic reaction, contact your healthcare provider or visit the emergency room.
Fire ants don’t die after a sting, which means they could bite or sting you again. Brush the ant away if it is on your skin and be aware that ants are rarely alone, so if you see one, there might be more nearby.
Visit your healthcare provider if your symptoms from an ant bite last longer than a week to ten days. If at-home treatment of ice to reduce swelling, acetaminophen to reduce pain and antihistamines to stop itching don’t work, your healthcare provider will offer different or stronger treatments to reduce your symptoms.
If you experience symptoms of an allergic reaction after an ant bite, visit the emergency room or call 911 immediately. Signs of an allergic reaction include:
Although rare, anaphylactic shock is a severe allergic reaction that can have life-threatening consequences if not treated immediately.
Ants and bed bugs are both insects that bite. Bed bugs have an oval or circular shape to their body, dark brown color and six legs with two antennae. Ants have long, linear bodies, six legs with two antennae, and are black, brown or red.
Ants can leave a single bite, whereas bed bugs usually bite your skin in multiple places. Ants usually bite on your feet, hands and legs and bed bugs prefer biting your hands and arms and parts of your body that make contact with your bed where they live.
The bite from an ant can look like a single pimple and a bite from a bed bug causes small red elevated bumps in a linear pattern on your skin. Both types of bites cause itching.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Ants are usually harmless insects and don’t pose a threat to humans unless their home is disturbed. Be aware of what ants are most common where you live and contact pest control if you notice a lot of ants in or near your home. Treat ant bites like a wound and reach out to your healthcare provider if you think you’re having an allergic reaction to an ant bite.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 05/06/2022.
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