What Are Fire Ants? Are They Dangerous?
Fire ants are a group of species from the genus Solenopsis. They’re notorious for their aggressive and territorial behavior. They get their name from the burning sensation caused by their painful stings.
Fire ants include the invasive species Solenopsis invicta. These ants, otherwise known as red imported fire ants, can cause fatal medical issues. They’re also considered pests as they cause agricultural, structural, and ecological damage.
In this article, we’ll learn more about fire ants as we discuss the following:
- How to identify fire ants
- Fire ant habitat
- Fire ant habits
- Are fire ants dangerous?
- How to stay safe from fire ants
- How to control fire ants
Fire Ant Identification
Fire ants are small ants that measure around 2–6mm long. They can be reddish-brown to black in color. Their abdomens are usually darker than their heads. They have larger workers than other Solepnosis species and have worker polymorphism. 
Where are Fire Ants Found? Fire Ant Habitat
Most fire ant species are native to the Neotropics. However, human activity has allowed them to spread throughout the world. They are now well-represented in many regions including North America, Europe, and Asia. They are particularly widespread in the southern United States, where they have become major household and agricultural pests.
Fire ants can live in a wide variety of habitats. They’re found in forests, grasslands, and even urban areas.
Fire Ant Habits
Fire ants nest in the soil. These nests are usually found in sunny open areas like lawns, meadows, pastures, and parks. They can also be next to or under objects like rocks and logs.
Fire ant nests are characterized by visible mounds made of dirt. These mounds can vary in size depending on the colony. They can grow larger than 18 inches in height. Unlike other mounds, fire ant mounds don’t have openings in the center.
Fire ants are omnivorous. They eat both plant and animal matter. These include insects, seeds, sap, and nectar. As aggressive predators, they also prey on small animals like reptiles and birds.
Fire ants also tend to plant pests, such as aphids. They form mutualistic relationships with these pests. They offer them protection in exchange for honeydew.
Lastly, fire ants also scavenge on dead animals.
Fire ants follow the typical ant colony structure. They have 3 castes: queens, workers, and drones.
These castes each have specific functions. Queens are the only females in the colony capable of laying eggs. Their primary role is to reproduce and maintain the colony’s population. Fire ant colonies can have 1 or multiple egg-laying queens depending on the species.
Workers, on the other hand, are sterile females. They dedicate themselves to helping the queen and her brood. They do everything from finding food and nest maintenance.
Lastly, drones are produced when the colony needs to expand. Their sole purpose is to mate with virgin queens.
See this article to learn more about ant colony structure.
Monogynous fire ants generally reproduce through swarming. At certain times of the year, winged reproductive ants fly out of their nests to swarm. They meet with other ants from different colonies and mate. After mating, the drones die, and the queens land and shed their wings.
The mated queens then search for a suitable location to start a new colony. Once they find a suitable site, the queen will dig a small hole in the soil and lay a small bunch of eggs. These eggs eventually hatch into her first workers.
Healthy and fed fire ant queens eventually lay up to 800 to 1000 eggs per day.
On the flip side, polygynous fire ants often expand through budding. In this process, they don’t fly out to swarm but instead, mate close to their nests. These mated queens then take some workers and break away to start new colonies.
See this article to learn more about how ants reproduce.
Are Fire Ants Dangerous?
Yes, fire ants are dangerous. They pose a number of threats to humans, pets, wildlife, and agriculture.
Here are some dangers of fire ants:
Fire ants have painful and potent stings. These stings can be deadly and lead to allergic reactions or anaphylaxis. They can also cause different symptoms like nausea and dizziness. These stings are particularly deadly for small pets and animals.
Fire ants are invasive and can cause ecological damage. Their aggressive and competitive behavior can displace native species in an environment.
Additionally, their nesting activities can also impact soil quality and reduce soil fertility. This then affects plant growth and nutrient cycling.
Overall, they disrupt ecosystem dynamics and negatively affect ecosystem health.
Fire ants are also notorious agricultural pests. They indirectly damage crops and plants by tending to aphids and other pests. They also damage crops directly by feeding on seeds, seedlings, and plant buds.
Furthermore, their nest-building activities also cause damage to plant roots and soil structures. This further impacts crop growth and yield.
All in all, the economic impact of fire ants on agriculture can be significant. For example, red imported fire ants have been shown to cause damage to crops like cotton. In addition, their stings negatively affect livestock and cause reduced productivity.
Fire ants can cause structural damage to buildings and other infrastructure. They often build their nests in walls, insulation, and other hidden spaces. This can weaken structural integrity and lead to costly repairs. They can also create electrical hazards as they chew through wires and components.
How To Stay Safe From Fire Ants?
To stay safe from fire ants, it is important to take some precautions when in areas where they are present. Here are some tips:
- Wear protective clothing when working or playing outdoors. This includes long pants, closed-toe shoes, and gloves.
- Avoid wearing loose clothing. These may allow fire ants to crawl inside and on your skin.
- Be cautious when near fire ant mounds. Do not disturb the mounds or stand on them. It’s also best to keep your pets away from these mounds.
- Keep food and drinks covered when outdoors to prevent attracting fire ants.
- Use caution when mowing the lawn or trimming vegetation, as this can disturb fire ant nests.
If you are stung by fire ants, you can use the following treatments to reduce pain and discomfort:
- Wash the affected area with soap and water to help prevent infection.
- Apply a cold compress or ice pack to the sting site to help reduce swelling and pain.
- Use over-the-counter pain relievers, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, to relieve discomfort.
- Use topical creams or ointments like hydrocortisone cream to reduce itching and rashes.
- Antihistamines, such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl), can also help reduce itching.
In case of severe allergic reactions, seek medical attention immediately.
Fire Ant Control
Fire ants can be nasty pests. You do not want them in your home or yard. Here are some methods you can use to control fire ant infestations:
Baits are insecticides that consist of a food source laced with a slow-acting poison. The idea is that ants carry these baits back to their nests and feed them to the queen. Should it be successful, they can eliminate entire colonies.
Baits are toxic and should be handled with care. Apply them according to the label instructions.
Insecticides are chemicals that control insects like ants. They come in many different forms including sprays, dust, and granules. They’re designed to kill ants on contact. Hence, they’re usually applied directly to ant nests.
Like baits, insecticides are toxic. So be careful when using them.
Professional Pest Control
For large or persistent fire ant infestations, consider hiring a professional. They will help assess and treat the problem once and for all.
Summary: What are Fire Ants?
To summarize, fire ants refer to a group of aggressive species from the genus Selonopsis. These ants are native to the neotropics but have become widespread worldwide.
They’re mostly known for their aggressive behavior and painful stings. They cause a number of issues including agricultural, structural, and ecological damage. They can also cause fatal medical conditions like allergic reactions and anaphylaxis.