Death By Ants: Can Ants Kill Humans?
Ants have sometimes been portrayed as deadly killers in pop culture. For example, in the movie Indiana Jones 4, ants played a rather violent role in the demise of some villains, swarming and devouring them almost instantly. In one scene, these ants even effortlessly carried a struggling man down into their nest where they may perhaps feast on him and lead to what we could only imagine to be a horrifying death.
But what about in real life? Are ants actually capable of killing humans?
Can Ants Kill Humans?
While it doesn’t quite happen like it does in the movies, some ants can most definitely kill us humans. Though uncommon, there have been several cases of death by ants all over the world, with victims including even infants and the elderly.
It’s crazy to think that these small insects which we encounter everyday could actually lead us to our deaths. But it’s every bit true. For example, a woman in Bolivia who was mistakenly accused of car theft, died after vigilante villagers bound her to a tree where she was bitten and stung by hundreds of fire ants.
Now, other cases aren’t as gruesome but still horrifying in their own right, especially since they occur in rather normal circumstances. Such as in the case of a 3-month-old baby which died after being swarmed by ants during her nap time. Or the woman that died after being bitten by certain red ants while on a trip to the state park.
So how exactly does this happen and what do we need to be aware of? Let’s find out as we discuss how ants can kill humans and which ants we should be wary of.
How Can Ants Kill Humans?
In the movies, ants swarm their victims and somehow manage to devour them in a way that would leave viewers with nightmares. Suffice to say that doesn’t really happen often in real life where ant deaths tend to not be as violent.
With that said, there have been several reported cases of human deaths, inebriated or infant, caused by army or driver ants which are known to attack and eat everything they encounter in their paths. These are quite rare though, as they move slowly and a healthy human could simply walk away. Still, it does mean that being eaten by ants isn’t outside the realm of possibility.
Overall though, most ant victims actually die because of ant stings, not because they were eaten. These venom-injecting stings cause allergic reactions which lead to medical complications that can range from mild irritation at the sting site to death depending on the number of stings and condition of the victim.
To be more specific, here are some reactions caused by ant stings:
- Localized Skin Reaction. Localized skin reactions cause immediate pain and redness on the site of the sting, before eventually developing a few hours in, an itchy pustule which can last several days to weeks. While relatively minor, these pustules may develop infections and require medical attention.
- Mild Systemic Reaction. Mild systemic reactions on the other hand include both skin and gastrointestinal symptoms. In addition to itch, swelling, pain, and redness on the site of the sting, symptoms may also include mild nausea, diarrhea, and abdominal cramping.
- Severe Systemic Reaction. Severe reactions include symptoms of anaphylaxis such as dizziness, headache, nausea, hypotension, shortness of breath, chest pain, severe abdominal pain, vomiting, and cramping. Worst case it may lead to anaphylactic shock which may lead to death.
Lastly, ants may also contaminate food and indirectly cause foodborne illnesses which in some cases, may be life-threatening. For instance, microbiological analysis on ants has confirmed the presence of fecal contaminants and pathogens such as E.coli, Salmonella, and Shigella.
Some ants have also been discovered to be disease vectors in hospital or medical environments. Pharaoh ants, for example, have been shown to be vectors of several disease-causing bacteria.
How To Keep Safe From Ants
Knowing now that ants are capable of taking our lives, it’s best that we know how to protect ourselves. And as with most problems, prevention is better than cure. So here’s how to prevent yourself from getting stung by ants:
- Be Aware Of Your Environment. Be wary of where and what you’re stepping on. Don’t stand on their nests or food that they’re foraging.
- Wear Protective Clothing. Be sure to dress appropriately for outdoor activities. Wearing boots, socks, and tucking your pants in them may help prevent ants from getting to crawl directly on your skin.
- Use Repellents. You may use repellents to deter ants from areas which you frequent. Applying them onto possible entrances will also help keep them away from your home.
- Keep Clean. Lastly, keep your house and environment clean. Food spills, scraps, and other messes may all be potential food sources that attract and invite ants to unwanted places.
In the event that you do get stung, be mindful of your symptoms. Minor reactions which only involve pain and the development of pustules can be treated with over-the-counter products that relieve pain and prevent infection.
If however, the sting causes severe symptoms such as chest pain, loss of breath, nausea, and vomiting, get medical help immediately. If available, adrenaline (epinephrine), could be used as first-aid treatment for anaphylaxis.
Ants To Look Out For
Keep in mind that not all ants are dangerous, and many of the ones we encounter are in fact beneficial and peaceful creatures. But as you already know, there are those that are quite deadly, so here are the ones you have to look out for:
Fire Ants. These dull red colored ants are notorious for their aggression and painful and potent stings. When disturbed these ants don’t hesitate to attack and sting their victims multiple times. What’s worse is that they work in groups, so expect multiple ants to be stinging at once. These ants have taken a considerable number of lives. In fact an old article from 1999 states that fire ants have caused at least 80 deaths then. Wonder how many more they’ve taken all these years later.
Bulldog / Jack Jumper Ants. If you’re from Australia, then be wary of these two ants. Both from the genus Myrmecia, these black solitary ants are easily noticeable due to their large eyes and mandibles. Like fire ants, they possess extremely potent stings which may cause anaphylactic reactions. In fact, both these ants have caused string related fatalities, in some cases killing their victims within 20 minutes of a single sting.
Army / Driver Ants. Unlike the previously listed ants, army and driver ants aren’t necessarily known for stinging. Instead, they prefer to rely on their powerful jaws and scissor-like mandibles to tear their prey into shreds. These ants which move in large groups are notorious for destroying and eating everything in their path, and pretty much the closest to the deadly ants found in movies. With all that said though, they can only really hurt you if you don’t move and let them bite you. So they’re mostly dangerous for infants or the inebriated.
It’s quite scary knowing that some ants can actually harm and kill us, especially since they’re so numerous and common. Keep in mind though that not all ants are dangerous, and fatality from those that are considered deadly, is still relatively rare.
Most ants only attack when they’re disturbed or threatened, so if you’re careful and do your best to prevent these attacks from happening, then you’re pretty much safe.