Fire Ant

Fire-Ant
  • Common Name(s): Fire Ant, Red Imported Fire Ant, Black Imported Fire Ant
  • Order: Hymenoptera
  • Family: Formicidae
  • Common Species: Solenopsis invicta
  • Commonly Confused With: Other Ant Species

Characteristics

How to Identify?

Fire-Ant-CharacteristicsFire ants are either brown, black, or red in color. They range from 0.3 to 0.6 centimeters in size. When looking at the abdomen (back section of an insect), you will see two nodes (bumps) connecting it to the thorax (middle section of an insect). You can differentiate termites and ants by looking at the antenna. Ants have an antenna that looks bent or elbowed while termites have a straight, beaded looking antenna. Another key to helping identify fire ants is their mound. Like the mound pictured below, they have solid mounds, with no entry/exit holes, strewn around the yard. Fire ants do not actually enter in and out through their mound, but have numerous entrance/exit holes throughout the yard.

Habitat

Where do they live?
These ants are some of the most aggressive and widespread fire ants in North America, displacing tons of other ant species. They live underground in a network of tunnels and small chasms. The mound that homeowners see in the yard is actually a giant incubator for eggs, larva (juvenile), and pupa (resting stage between larvae and adult); all of these are commonly referred to as the brood. Mounds are usually built in open, sunny, grassy areas. When it is cold during the day fire ants will move the brood towards the top of the mound to get sunlight and warmth; if temperatures get too cold the brood will be moved deeper into the nest to protect them from freezing. The brood will also be moved deeper underground when it is hot to prevent overheating. Mounds can also play an important role in regulating moisture in fire ant colonies.

Food Source

What do they eat?
Fire ants are very versatile and will eat almost any kind of plant or animal matter; they do not care if the plant or animal matter is dead or alive.

Activity

What do they do?
These insects are extremely protective of their nests. If you step on a fire ant mound, by accident or intentionally, fire ants will rush out in force to sting what they perceive as a threat in order to protect the nest. Usually, when someone is stung by fire ants, in addition to a painful burning sensation, a small white pustule will form in every location where a sting is received. These pustules will stay for a few days and can start to itch or burn. No serious medical help should be needed unless you are allergic to the venom or if the victim was a small child whose body was completely covered with fire ants.

Fun Fact

People will usually refer to fire ant stings as “bites.” Fire ants will bite you to hold on for better grip and leverage to deliver more stings, but the pain you feel is not from the bite. After biting, the fire ant will tuck its abdomen under to sting you over and over again. If you have ever tried to brush off a fire ant and noticed that it did not come off on the first attempt, it is because it is holding onto you with its mandibles (mouthparts).

Additional Resources

Check out the following resources for more information on fire ants and their behaviors:

Author: G. Wyatt West– B.S.E.S University of Georgia 2017; Board Certified Entomologist

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