In addition to causing mayhem to the physical appearance of yards and commercial properties, harvester ants attack when their nests are disturbed. Harvester ant stings can cause painful sores and possible allergic reactions in people and animals. Some species wield stingers with reverse barbs that actually break off in the sting site, like honeybee stingers. Unlike honeybees, harvester ants are capable of stinging multiple times. Similar to fire ants, the harvester ant’s two-part bite and sting process begins with the harvester ant attaching to its victim with its mandibles, then proceeding to repeatedly sting and inject venom into the region by pivoting around the site.
One of the most common harvester ant species found in Arizona, the Maricopa harvester ant’s venom is believed to be the most toxic insect venom in the world. The toxicity of the Maricopa harvester ant’s venom is legendary at 20 times stronger than the toxicity level of a honeybee sting. Maricopa harvester ant stings produce intense pain that can last up to four hours.
Like many venomous insects, the venom of the Maricopa harvester ant consists of amino acids, peptides, proteins and most notably, an alkaloid poison that sends out a pheromone alarm, chemically alerting other ants in the area. This chemical signaling, explains why ants all appear to sting as a unified force. The venom can also contain allergenic proteins that can set off a potentially lethal immune response in certain victims. Truly Nolen recommends seeking professional medical treatment for children, the elderly and those with certain allergies. In otherwise healthy adults, pain from stings can last up to four hours, with residual swelling and pain afterward.