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Most ant pest species pose a nuisance when they infest indoor areas, but a few ant species in the northeast can inflict bites and venomous stings. The most dangerous ant species in the northeast US is the invasive European fire ant, which has inflicted stings that triggered anaphylactic shock in the region. With the exception of the European fire ant, very few ant species in the northeast inflict painful stings that can result in serious medical symptoms. One of the most commonly encountered ant species in the northeastern US, the pavement ant, is widely assumed to be incapable of inflicting venomous stings to humans, but this is not the case.

Given the pavement ants ubiquity outdoors, this species is commonly assumed to be native to the US, but pavement ants actually originated from Europe and were accidentally transported into the US during the early 1800s. While pavement ants possess flimsy stingers that cannot easily penetrate human skin, they often manage to with a bit of trial and error. Surprisingly, pavement ant stings can trigger allergic reactions that result in intense itchiness, and when several pavement ants manage to inflict multiple stings to a person, clusters of red bumps often form on the affected area of skin a few days later. These red spots are accompanied by chronic itching, which can lead to skin infections in rare cases.

Pavement ants cannot easily insert their stingers into skin, as the tip of their stinger forms a flag shape, which allows trail-following pheromones to disperse into the air more effectively. Improved dispersal of trail-following pheromones allows massive amounts of pavement ants to gravitate into homes in a relatively short period of time. Pavement ants can also rely on light sources to calculate the shortest distance to a destination. These ants also prefer to dwell in areas where vegetation is light, and pavement ants thrive in human dwellings. Since pavement ants prefer an urban habitat, they account for the greatest number of ants collected from residential and urban insect traps. Pavement ants often enter homes in order to feed on sweet-tasting foods.

Have you ever sustained a sting from a seemingly harmless ant species?