Some ant species in the United States are considered pests largely due to their ability to inflict potentially dangerous bites to humans and animals. For example, the invasive red-imported ant found in the southeastern states is a pest of urban landscapes and they rarely invade homes, but their stings can result in severe allergic reactions, including potentially fatal cases of anaphylactic shock. Surprisingly, more than 80 people in the US have succumbed to red-imported fire ant envenomations since the species was introduced into the country during the 1930s. Luckily for Massachusetts residents, the red-imported fire ant cannot be found in the northeast, and potentially dangerous ant pest species are rarely encountered in the state.
Myrmica rubra, or the European fire ant, is the only highly venomous stinging ant species that is known to be a common pest of homes in Massachusetts, and despite their common name, European fire ants are not closely related to red imported fire ants, nor are they as dangerous. However, European fire ants are considered a potential health threat to humans in Massachusetts and other areas of the northeast. These ants are non-native inhabitants of the US, and their habitat in the country is mostly limited to the northeastern states, but small populations are present in the southeast as well. Just as their common name suggests, European fire ants originate from Europe, and they were first discovered in the US back in 1908 when colonies were recovered in Massachusetts. Documented incidents of medically harmful European fire ant attacks were not reported in the northeast until the 1960s, but the most dramatic increase in annual envenomation rates in the region occurred during the late 1990s.
Unfortunately, another highly venomous non-native ant species known as Brachyponera chinensis has recently established an invasive habitat in the northeast, and evidence suggests that they may be more of a threat to public health in the country than red-imported fire ants. P. chinensis is more commonly known as the Asian needle ant, and their stings are well known for inducing anaphylaxis. Unlike red-imported fire ants, Asian needle ants readily invade homes where they can establish hidden nests, and although they have not yet been officially documented in Massachusetts, they are already established in New York, Connecticut and New Jersey. According to multiple studies, Asian needle ants will soon colonize Massachusetts due to climate change.
Have you ever sustained a painful ant sting in Massachusetts?