The warm months of summer signal an increase of fire ant activity in Florida. If you have ever encountered fire ants, you probably know they deliver a painful sting and are difficult to eliminate. Here is everything you never wanted to know about these invasive and irritating invaders.
Fire ant, (genus Solenopsis), also called thief ant, any of a genus of insects in the family Formicidae, order Hymenoptera, that occur in tropical regions of the world, such as Central and South America, and in some temperate regions, such as North America. Fire ants were introduced into the United States in the 1920’s and 1930’s. Now they are considered an invasive species in the southern states from Virginia to New Mexico, as well as California and Puerto Rico. The best-known member of the genus, the red imported fire ant (Solenopsis saevissima, also known as S. invicta), was accidentally introduced into the United States from South America. The red or yellowish ants are one to five millimeters in length and can inflict a severe sting. The semi-permanent nest consists of a loose mound with open craters for ventilation.
Two species of fire ants are found in Florida. Most notorious is Solenopsis invicta Buren, the red imported fire ant (RIFA), followed by the much less common Solenopsis geminata (Fabricius), the tropical or native fire ant. It is important to distinguish between the red imported fire ant and the native fire ant in order for appropriate control measures to be taken. Mounds of Solenopsis geminata will contain workers with square-shaped heads that are larger in proportion to the rest of their body. These workers collect and mill seeds for the colony (Drees 1997). Workers of Solenopsis invicta do not have workers with disproportionate head to body ratios.
Fire ants communicate through chemical secretions and stridulation (sounds produced by rubbing or drumming one body part against another). While adult workers are known for their aggressive behavior when under the threat of attack from neighboring ant colonies, young fire ants, whose stingers and external skeletons are not yet fully developed, play dead. The lifespan of red imported fire ant workers depends on their size. Minor workers may live 30 to 60 days, media workers 60 to 90 days, major workers 90 to 180 days, and queens may live two to six years. Complete lifecycle from egg to adult takes between 22 and 38 days (Hedges 1997).
Don’t Mess with the Mounds!
Mounds are built of soil and are seldom larger than 46 cm (18 in) in diameter. When a mound is disturbed, ants emerge aggressively to bite and deliver a painful sting the intruder. When stung, people may also experience itching, followed by the appearance of a white, fluid-filled pustule. Sensitive people may also have swelling, chest pain, difficulty breathing, nausea, and sweat after being stung. If this happens, get emergency medical treatment immediately. You can dial 911, or reach a Poison Control Center by dialing 1-800-222-1222.
Fire Ant Facts
– Fire ants are extremely aggressive when bothered, and they may sting repeatedly.
– Fire ants like greasy and oily foods, especially cat and dog foods. Take steps to keep ants from having access to pet foods. Regularly empty outside trash cans to keep fire ants from finding food.
– Fire ants use plants as bridges to access buildings. Keep plants trimmed away from your home to prevent access.
– Fire ants often infest electrical equipment. For safety reasons, only a licensed pest control operator or an electrician should treat fire ants in or near these areas.
Fire Ant Prevention
While there are many over-the-counter remedies to control fire ants, many prove ineffective or only cause the colony to migrate. Regular treatments by a licensed pest control operator will provide ongoing protection from fire ants. At Patrick Exterminating, we offer guaranteed monthly lawn and exterior treatments to protect your home and property all year long from fire ants and other invasive intruders.
Sources: University of Florida / National Pesticide Information Center (NPIC) / Britannica