For those of you who may be coming down here for summer vacation, keep your eyes on the ground as well as the waves. Yeah, we’re talking fire ants.
I don’t know if the ones we have where I live are Solenopsis invicta, the red imported fire ant (RIFA), or the native Solenopsis geminata. Probably the RIFA, though I honestly don’t care that much. They’re both hazards to life, limb, and sanity. They’re nasty. They’re tiny – less than a quarter of an inch long. And the import in particular will eat anything not nailed down – they eat crops, they kill livestock, and massed stings can take down critters as well-armored as box turtles and large as a cow. Meaning if the RIFA gets into an area where seabirds nest, the chicks are often doomed unless humans intervene. This goes for sea turtle nests as well. (And then you get the lovely arguments between various environmentalists about spreading pesticides, oh noes!)
They are painful. And the dog likes to drag us right through them. This is avoidable by day. Not so much by night.
Most insects I’m live and let live with. Even wasps are generally manageable, as long as you don’t blunder into their nests. The fire ant – grrrr.
The imports – which are the really nasty ones – apparently got into the country through the port at Mobile, Alabama sometime during the run-up to WWII, or a little later. In their native range of the Pantanal in South America they’re in a high-disturbance environment; frequently flooded, sometimes fires. They have a nifty if infuriating trick of balling up to float their colony in a flood. As you can imagine, in an area that gets hurricane flooding, that means dispersing for them is very, very easy.
Did I mention the pain? Burning, stinging, itching, the whole ball of wax. You might get a clue how nasty it is by the recommended course of treatment: First, kill the ant by slapping it off you so it stops stinging….
This is, unfortunately, important. You can develop life-threatening allergies to fire ants. Many do. Up to and including anaphylactic shock. So one of the first things you do once you’re bitten, along with washing the area with soap and water, is take an antihistamine! Then watch out for any symptoms of worse allergic reactions; trouble breathing, swelling throat, etc. Oh, and hallucinations and other nerve symptoms; not common, but there is a neurotoxin in the stings.
If you’re lucky (hah!) all you get are a set of profoundly itchy red hives with pustules (pus-filled blisters) on top. Supposedly the pus is sterile and will clear up on its own in 3-8 days. I have never been that lucky. So I would advise also applying antibiotic ointments. Plenty of them also come with a pain relieving element, that may keep you from scratching as much.
If the sting does scab up, try not to scratch it off. You may spring a leak.
No, really. The witches’ brew of toxins tends to dissolve your flesh right down to a blood vessel, and it just beads up and keeps dripping, like the world’s itchiest nosebleed. Apply antibiotic ointment and pressure. It’ll stop eventually.
…I make Florida sound like a horror movie sometimes, don’t I? *Wry G*
Seriously, keep your eyes open. There’s nothing to ruin your day like “augh augh slap augh!“