Fire Ants Bite, Kill Alabama Woman As She Talks On Her Cellphone

The Rolan and Duke families were already in mourning when the unthinkable happened. First, the family matriarch died after a lengthy bout with lung disease. Within 24 hours, her adult daughter was attacked by a swarm of fire ants and died almost instantly.

As the effects of pulmonary disease took their toll on her health, Roberta Lynn Duke lived with her daughter Kalyn Rolan and her son-in-law Brandon. The three resided in a mobile home in rural Prattville, Alabama, according to CBS News. Lynn Duke, as she was known to friends, passed away at age 53 on May 19. A viewing was planned for May 21.

Brandon Rolan and his wife were in Selma making preparations for his mother-in-law’s funeral. That’s what Kalyn was talking about with a friend when she was attacked by an angry swarm of fire ants on Friday, May 20. According to Brandon, Kalyn was standing on a bale of hay which she poked at with a stick as she chatted on her cellphone. Kalyn’s mother-in-law, Sheila Rolan, told reporters,

“The ants started coming out and getting all over her and she came off the haystack and my son said he grabbed her and put her on the ground, took her clothes off trying to help her to save her, but he couldn’t save her. She died in my son’s arms. I can only imagine what he’s going through right now.”

According to Mrs. Rolan, Kalyn suffered severe allergies to shellfish, peanuts, and insect bites and was not carrying a rescue device with her on the day she was attacked. Despite on-the-scene emergency efforts by local firefighters and continued treatment during the 25-mile ride to the hospital, Kalyn Rolan died after being bitten numerous times.

As of this writing, autopsy results are pending, but Dallas County Coroner Alan Dailey told CBS News that the 29-year-old probably perished due to anaphylactic shock that closed her airways.

“She had multiple bites around both ankles. Those red ants are a problem all over the South. They’re mean, and by the time you know you’ve been bit once they are all over you.”

Mother and daughter were buried beside each other on Thursday. The Rolan family has set up a GoFundMe account to help defray funeral costs.

Are fire ants a danger where you live?

According to the Journal of the New York Entomological Society, two species of fire ants were inadvertently imported into the southern United States in the early 20th century. Solenopsis invecti, the red fire ants that apparently killed Kalyn Rolan earlier this month, were first noted in Mobile, Alabama, in 1918. Today, black and red fire ants are a menace from North Carolina to Florida and as far west as Texas. Relatively smaller populations of fire ants may be found in southern New Mexico and in California desert regions.

Red fire ants killed Alabama woman May 2016
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that due to a lack of natural predators, fire ants are now more populous in the southern USA than in their native countries of Brazil and Argentina. The biting, stinging insects are quite aggressive, especially when they are disturbed. The CDC recommends caution when in a location where fire ants may be present. Fire ants can live in the ground as well as in water and trees. Red fire ants may also be found under animal carcasses and in hale bays.

Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) notes that when fire ants bite, they clasp themselves to the skin with their jaws then pivot around to inflict painful stings in a circular pattern. Each sting or bite can leave a wound that is prone to secondary infection. Persons who are hypersensitive to insect venom may suffer severe reactions, including chest pain, nausea, slurred speech, coma, and even death.

[Photo by Scott Bauer|Creative Commons|CC by SA 4.0]