Ant Month: Meet the Fire Ant

Our Ant Month series continues with the second featured species: fire ants. Unlike our first spotlighted species, the Argentine ant, an invasion by these hostile insects brings the risk of painful bites and stings—these territorial ants aren’t exactly the most pleasant houseguests.

FIRE ANTS

COMMON NAMES: Stinging ants, ginger ants, red ants, biting ants, RIFAs (red imported fire ants)

LATIN NAMES: Fire ants are actually several species under the genus Solenopsis (Solenopsis invicta, Solenopsis richteri, Solenopsis solenopsidis, Solenopsis xyloni, and more)

ORIGIN: Fire ants species are largely imported, native to South America, and were first documented in the United States in the 1940s.

DEFINING CHARACTERISTICS:

  • Fire ants are known for their painful bites and stings.
    Territorial and aggressive, these ants strike when their large, dome-like mounds are disturbed.

APPEARANCE

  • Fire ant workers vary widely in size, ranging from 116 to 38 of an inch—tinier workers can be three times smaller than the largest ones in the colony.
  • Their bodies typically appear vivid red to reddish-brown, though some species can be black.
  • Fire ants have a visible mandible used for clamping onto perceived threats before administering a venomous sting.
  • A fire ant’s rounded head and reddish thorax are connected to an abdominal stinger by a narrow, double-noded waist.

FIRE ANT DIET

  • Fire ants are omnivorous and will forage for a variety of foods.
  • Meat, dairy, grains, fruits, vegetables, grease and oil, dead insects, and even some small animals are on the menu.
  • These ants will feed on almost any plant or animal food source, whether dead or alive.

FIRE ANT HABITATS

OUTDOORS

Fire ants prefer sunny, open locations when searching for ideal nesting sites. Their domed mounds can be very large, spreading up to four feet in width and standing under two feet tall at their largest. Fire ant mounds appear in varied spots but are most often in sandy or dirt-filled areas within yards, pastures, parks, fields, and gardens.

Fire ant mounds don’t have an entrance or exit in the center of their domed nest, and these pests actually utilize a series of tunnels with entrances often several feet away from flattened, raised soil mounds. Some fire ant mounds are obscured by piles of wood, large rocks, pavement panels, or other piles of debris, making avoiding their colonies a unique challenge in these cases.

INDOORS

Though fire ants are more inclined to nest outside, they have been found near heating and cooling units, in electrical boxes, and near pipes and wiring. Often fire ants will nest outside near buildings and structures, and as their colonies rapidly grow, their nests will extend within walls. Fire ants are a prolific bunch. When they find a sufficient food source, they’re likely to stick around for some time.

RISKS AND HAZARDS

Fire ants are named for the painful, burning sensation that follows one of their venomous stings. When their nests are disturbed, thousands of angry fire ants can emerge at once. Individual fire ants rarely sting only once, so a whole group of these territorial pests can inflict some serious pain when defending their nest. While stings are painful and irritating for most of us, some people may have a rare allergy to fire ant venom. In these cases, stings can be a serious health concern.

In addition to stings, fire ants’ undiscriminating diet often leads them to feast upon creatures carrying harmful diseases, illnesses, and pathogens. Fire ant workers foraging for dead or decaying insects and animals can track unhealthy bacteria in and around your home while on the hunt, putting you and your family at risk for some unwelcome illnesses.

Fire ant’s rapid growth can also seriously disturb landscaping and even damage structures. Damage caused by fire ants can be difficult to catch before it’s too late and can result in unsightly garden destruction, hazardous electrical damage, and costly repairs. A colony of fire ants can get out of hand before you know it. Intervening as soon as possible is vital when facing a fire ant infestation.

GETTING RID OF FIRE ANTS

  1. An indoor infestation can’t be sustained without an attractive food supply. Because fire ants eat a wide variety of materials, take a good look around and clean up any spills, crumbs, and other messes that may attract these aggressive ants. Use airtight food storage containers to repackage any foods left out or stored in paper, cardboard, or flimsy plastic. Make sure you have tight-fitting lids for garbage cans and clean up pet spaces, too.
  2. Because these ants feast on most plant and animal sources, address any other adjacent pest problems you have on your hands. Cockroaches, flies, grasshoppers, and other common pests are all appealing meals for fire ants, so get a jump on DIY pest control or call in a professional to assist.
  3. Fire ant workers use ant-typical pheromone scent trails to guide their fellow foragers to potential meals. Carefully observe activity to and from their nests and take measures to interfere and disrupt these trails using vinegar, baking soda, or ammonia-based cleaners like Windex.
  4. A pest control professional can help you get rid of active fire ant infestations by using baits. Pest experts are particularly helpful when facing fire ants because do-it-yourself treatments applied to nests may not penetrate deeply enough to reach the queen and other workers in deeper underground tunnels.
  5. Stop fire ant mounds before they start by removing debris piles, frequently tilling soil and landscaping, and keeping your lawn and garden trimmed, pruned, and manicured. Remove or adjust piles of wood, regularly clean pavers, and cut back any trees or bushes that could be concealing fire ant nesting sites.

PROFESSIONAL FIRE ANT CONTROL

For ant invasions large and small, a call to our pest control professionals can help you get rid of these insect intruders—an important factor when dealing with aggressive fire ants. Don’t put yourself or your loved ones at risk for painful stings. Our pest experts can identify circuitous fire ant nests and eradicate them for you.

SOURCES

http://ipm.ucanr.edu/PMG/PESTNOTES/pn7487.html
http://entoweb.okstate.edu/ddd/insects/rifa.htm
http://npic.orst.edu/pest/fireant.html
https://www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/resources/pests-diseases/hungry-pests/the-threat/imported-fire-ant/imported-fire-ant
http://entnemdept.ufl.edu/creatures/urban/ants/red_imported_fire_ant.htm
https://fireant.tamu.edu/manage/how-can-i-tell-if-i-have-fire-ants/
https://ant-pests.extension.org/what-do-fire-ants-eat/