Ant "bite" in Costa Rica

We were in Costa Rica two weeks ago. My son put his hand on a tree and several ants climbed onto his hand. One ant bit him before he could brush them off his hand. The bite swelled up puffy and red initially and now it has a ring around it about the size of a quarter. I have searched the internet for information on this bite but cannot find anything specific. I don't think it was a bullet ant because the bite stung more like a bee sting, and was not as painful reported for a bullet ant. Our doctor thought it looked like ringworm. Do I need to be concerned about this ant bite?

Jan B.

Hello Jan, and thanks for contacting the Ant Web weblog.

Most likely, the ant stung (hence, "bite" in quotes) your son's hand and injected a venom that has caused the reaction you describe. I think you are quite right that the stinging ant was not a bullet ant, from your description, as they are quite large (nearly an inch in body length) and forage singly. Different ants have different chemical components in their venoms, and cause different reactions, in addition to the fact that individual people may react differently to the same venom. Some predaceous species have tissue damaging venoms that are used to quickly dispatch their prey, but in a larger victim such as a human it would cause pain and discoloration that might look similar to ringworm. Note that no ant is known to carry the ringworm fungus, so the similarity that your doctor observed is almost certainly coincidental.
Of course, we don't give out medical advice, but common sense dictates that you keep a close eye on your son's hand to make sure it doesn't get any worse, or that infection sets in. We wish your son a safe and quick recovery from this sting reaction. If there are no other symptoms beside the local ones, the best thing would be to keep the area clean, and wait for the damaged tissue to heal by the body's natural processes.

James C. Trager of the Ask Ant Team.

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