View Full Version : Fire ants, and other venomous insect stings

John K Jordan
07-03-2018, 9:09 AM
I've heard for several years that there are fire ants in our area but I found my first confirmed (small) mound yesterday. I discovered it when while weeding in an unused raised bed the garden when I felt a sharp sting on my wrist and another between two fingers. Almost a day later the wrist is still swollen and itching. Who knows what kind of reaction I might have had without prompt use of The Extractor *. A few hours after spreading Fire Ant killer around the nest they had carried most of it underground. After a few days I think I'll fight fire with fire and dig up the nest with my propane powered blaster torch in hand.

* The Extractor, for those who haven't seen one:
This looks like the same basic thing but cheaper: https://www.amazon.com/Rainfly-Extractor-Emergency-Poison-Suction/dp/B07877K1RC
I buy them from Walmart in the camping section. (used to be $11.)

I'm a believer. This thing is amazing for stings from bees, wasps, and such. Instead of treating the symptoms of a sting it creates a vacuum and pulls at least some of the venom out of the skin so it can't possibly have the full effect. For example, I'm sensitive to yellow jacket venom - a sting on my hand caused my entire arm to swell up all the way to my neck. When I use The Extractor on a yellow jacket sting now all I get is a round red spot the size of a quarter or so. It usually stops the pain instantly, too. BTW, the syringe creates suction when the plunger is depressed. How do it do that?!

The little suction syringe is supposed to work with venomous snakes too but I haven't had the occasion to use it for that yet! I keep them in the house, in the shop, in the beekeeping kit, in the saddle bag on the trail, in the backpack when hiking, in each vehicle, and on the tractor. The downside of using it on the fire ant sting is now I still don't know if an untreated sting will need the epi-pen or send me to the hospital! (My oldest son discovered he has a huge reaction.)

In use, on a friend's neck:


Jim Koepke
07-03-2018, 11:07 AM
BTW, the syringe creates suction when the plunger is depressed. How do it do that?!

It must be the dual chamber design.

In searching for a drawing of the device a review was found that didn't like the device:

Snakebite suction devices don't remove venom: they just suck.


A testimonial from an actual user carries a bit more weight with me than a single test.

There used to be a little snake bite kit that had a rubber housing that became the suction device. Looks like a similar device is on the market still for $5.

It is marketed as a snake bite kit.


John K Jordan
07-03-2018, 1:28 PM
..There used to be a little snake bite kit that had a rubber housing that became the suction device. Looks like a similar device is on the market still for $5.
It is marketed as a snake bite kit.

I used to have one of those. It created very little vacuum compared to the syringe. Maybe I'll test the syringe with one of my vacuum test gauges. It would be interesting to compare it to the snake bite kit.

I didn't think of it till just now, but I have two vacuum pumps in the shop. If prepared ahead of time with the right fittings and valves I suspect they could work as well as the The Extractor.


Wayne Lomman
07-03-2018, 9:40 PM
Vacuum treatment of snakebite has been obsolete here for at least 20 years. It does not work. Survival rates are vastly better by treating with immobilization and compression bandaging. Insect stings are different. I am allergic to bee stings so a device like this looks interesting. I currently have to medicate immediately with strong antihistamine which is enough to get by with. Jack jumper ants are a different story. Their venom causes sensitization so every bite is worse that the last. Cheers

Steve Eure
07-03-2018, 10:13 PM
John, here in my neck of the country,(SW Ga.) they are everywhere. They are hard to control. You can use pesticides and other treatments, but they just come back or migrant from nearby locations.
I wish that the people who brought them here would have been staked out on top of their mounds. Story has it they were brought in and were told to get rid of them so they took them out into the Gulf and dumped them, not realizing that the ants will cling together and make a mat to float. Right back to our shores.
Back in 94' we had one of those 500 year floods on the Flint River. 8000 acres of the farm I worked on was under water. You should have seen all the rafts of fireants floating everywhere. Lord help you if you bumped into one of them.

Doug Dawson
07-04-2018, 3:56 AM
John, here in my neck of the country,(SW Ga.) they are everywhere. They are hard to control. You can use pesticides and other treatments, but they just come back or migrant from nearby locations.

They are (relatively) easy to control with Amdro, spot treatment around the mounds. For a large area, there is a broadcast version of it that will keep a yard or field free of them for 4 months or so. It's really miraculous how well this stuff works.

Crazy raspberry ants, that's a different story. We're not nearly so far along with figuring how to control those little beasts. Pray that it gets figured out before they reach your area.

John K Jordan
07-04-2018, 8:04 AM
To learn a little more about fire ants and other venomous things such as snakes the All Knowing Google informs me:

- Fire ants colonies can have long horizontal tunnels and multiple queens. Some methods of targeting a specific mound, such as pouring boiling water on the mound can then be a waste of time since they only affects that spot. Physical methods of destroying a mound may just cause survivors to move to a new spot.

- Poison bait such as Amdro can be more effective since the ants can carry the poison through the entire colony. Slow acting poison can be more effective since it doesn't immediately kill the ants before they carry the poison deep into the colony.

- Suction on snake bites can range from effective to dangerous. It can be effective on superficial bites in soft tissue. Venom injected deep in muscle tissue cannot be removed by suction. Suction on venom deep in muscle tissue can spread the venom and cause more damage than if left alone. Most advice from the pros is to not use a tourniquet. Quick medical attention and treatment with antivenom is important.

- The spread of crazy ants across the southeast causes concern. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-rise-of-the-crazy-ants/ Like the spread of "killer" or "africanized" honeybees cold enough winters may be a natural defense in some areas. It might be interesting to see how and if rising global temperatures and species adaptive strategies affect their range.

The swelling is going down on my fire ant bite leaving intense itching. Benadryl seems to be more effective for the itching than hydrocortozone cream. The muscles of the entire hand feel "tight" (not helping the piano playing!)

I've ordered several different suction devices and plan to compare them with a vacuum gauge when I get time, probably by early December the way things are going. :)


Tom M King
07-04-2018, 8:33 AM
Sorry for the trouble, but thanks for posting. Ordering a couple.

We don't normally have fire ants here, but we had a mound show up near the pasture, so I guess they rode here in hay from somewhere else. The Bayer Fire Ant Killer eliminated the whole mound with the first application, and we have seen no more for several years since then.

Alan Rutherford
07-04-2018, 2:33 PM
Fire ants have the unique quality of charging en masse up whatever is threatening their mound, whether it's a stick or your leg. You can test to see if a mound is fire ants by pushing a stick slightly into the top of it and see what kind of response you get. Don't linger too long. Fire ants don't really bite. They sting. They bite with the biting end and hold on while they deliver multiple stings with the other end. Given the nature of the "bite" and the likelihood that if you get stung by one fire ant you'll be stung by others, I wouldn't think vacuum would work well. I agree that Amdro is the only realistic control. Other methods might annoy them enough so they pack up and move but they won't go far. Use Amdro, put it around, not on, the mound and do it again a few days later.

Todd Mason-Darnell
07-04-2018, 3:14 PM

You need to come to Central Texas--fire ants are a way of life down here.

I have never tried the vacuum extractor for stings, but I can say if you can use ammonia on the stings immediate, that helps:


Otherwise, I alternate between Benadryl and hydrocortisone cream every 6-8 hours. Avoid popping the pustule that will form (you will get a minor infection that will itch like crazy). If you do pop it, I recommend some triple antibiotic cream.

In terms of driving them off, I use the Amdro bait for the general yard treatment (which I think just drives them into the neighbor's yard) and Orthene powder for the treatment of a mound that needs immediate killing (spread the powder, come back the next day and nothing but dead ants).

If they are in a flower pot or a raise food bed, a diluted mixture of orange oil and water does a great job as a drench to eliminate the mound. In general, however, I have not had good luck with liquid drenches for the general treatment of a mound outside of a container.

John K Jordan
07-04-2018, 3:24 PM
...Given the nature of the "bite" and the likelihood that if you get stung by one fire ant you'll be stung by others, I wouldn't think vacuum would work well....

I was stung by only two ants after disturbing the mound. The first one stung my wrist then I felt another sting in the web between two fingers. The "The Extractor" suction syringe comes with multiple skin contact cups so I used the largest one first on the wrist sting then the smallest one between the fingers. Applying the suction to the right places was not a problem since I saw exactly where the ants were attached and stinging.

If there were a bunch of ants stinging simultaneously then I suspect the suction syringe might not be effective. With spreading pain it would probably be difficult to even identify the exact sting sites.

Alan Rutherford
07-04-2018, 3:50 PM
Every time I think I know all I will ever want to know about something like fire ants, somebody says something that I check out and whad'dya know?

I had thought that formic acid was what made the fire ant sting hurt but apparently not so. The ant gurus now think that crazy ants will displace fire ants in the Southeast (there's something to look forward to) and the reason is that they are able to neutralize fire ant venom with the formic acid that's the painful component of a crazy ant sting. So applying something acidic like dilute vinegar or even urine (which is usually slightly acidic) to fire ant stings is not a ridiculous idea. Bleach and ammonia are not acidic. Save those for after the invasion of the crazy ants.

After doing what you can to neutralize the venom, doing something to make it feel better is a different subject and we all have lots of ideas for that.

John K Jordan
07-04-2018, 4:29 PM
...applying something acidic ... to fire ant stings is not a ridiculous idea.

That's a good idea. I learned that a weak acidic solution was useful for at least some venomous stings after an encounter with a sting ray while on a scuba photo shoot in the Florida keys. After first trying ice (WRONG!) I got out the diving 1st aid book which instructed to soak the site in water/vinegar solution as hot as possible. That helped some. That was probably the most pain I've ever had the joy of experiencing besides kidney stones. A sting ray wound might be much different from fire ants since the sharp barb slices the skin open - the sting I got was deep in a finger. It healed up in a few weeks then broke open again from internal infection a month later. The finger still hurt a year later and I could still feel it 10 years later. (I didn't even get the picture I went after!)

If I get stung again by fire ants I'll try the suction to remove what venom it can AND the vinegar to try to neutralize what remains. Fire ants, chiggers, ticks, mosquitos, yellow jackets - makes me want to spend the summers in Iceland.


Marc Jeske
07-05-2018, 8:14 AM
I think most of us have a small variety of syringes we have collected through the years for glue, grease, various uses.

For insect bite, I would think may work ok , just not as convenient "push" but pull actuation.

We have fire ants here. I myself just get a irritating itching small blister.. will try syringe next time.

Thanks John for a good post.


Bill Dufour
07-06-2018, 9:36 AM
That suction device looks like a solder sucker to me.
Bill D.

John K Jordan
07-06-2018, 12:44 PM

I found that to be the most effective the suction needs to be applied and left on the area for a while. I leave it on as long as it will hold, usually for at least a minute, then I repeat. I have a lot of syringes too, some very large for farm use. I see several possible problems with the pull method - one, it might be awkward to pull and hold for an extended time. Another, it might be impossible to pull in some situations - for example, I got a yellow jacket sting on my back in the middle where I couldn't even reach to press the Extractor syringe properly so I positioned it by looking in the bathroom mirror then leaned against the wall to depress the plunger. Pulling a standard syringe might be a two-hand operation. Another thing - my largest farm syringes use a rubber tip on the plunger which easily provide mild suction but sometimes pop off if pulled against too much suction.


A solder sucker may well work - I have several at my electronics bench. I haven't tested but I wonder if they would remove enough air volume to be effective with stings. The working ends have a tiny orifice so some type of cup would need to be attached to cover enough area on the skin. As an experienced stingee, I can testify that sometimes it is difficult to tell the exact point of assult! For those not familiar with them, the solder suckers I have work by latching the spring-loaded plunger down until released when the orifice is placed as close as possible to the molten solder. The rely on the very rapid intake of air to pull as much of the liquid metal inside as possible. The internal chamber is small and made of a plastic material that solder won't stick to. Depressing the plunger again ejects the solidified plug of solder and readies the device for the next use. It sometimes takes two or three attempts before enough solder is removed to free the connection. In some cases I find a desoldering wick is quicker.

As part of the ongoing educational process, I received three new suction devices today, ordered from Amazon. One is identical to The Extractor with the exact syringe but with different (and fewer) accessories in the kit. The second was a pull type syringe with fingerholds made for pulling multiple times. It has an internal valve to help hold the vacuum between strokes. In addition, the two cups provided each have their own valve which hold the vacuum, even when removed from the syringe. This might be very useful in the case of more than one sting. The third device is one of the traditional snake bite kits, tough flexible cups you place against the skin and squeeze and release to apply suction. I tested it briefly against my skin and the amount of suction was surprising. What it lacks is a razor for removing hair that may prevent a good seal against the skin, provided with The Extractor and clone kits. I'll test these when I get time or have more stings!

BTW, the suction devices also work on mosquito bites, perhaps useful for those sensitive. They also seem to to help with healing of tick bites which always causes a reaction for me which lasts for months, and with which I'm far too well acquainted being outside around the farm and in brush, weeds, and woods most of the day. Except for when I come it for a break and check the forums...