An introduction to fire ants
There are over 280 known fire ant species. Solenopsis invicta is one of the most talked about, mostly because of how much damage they have caused. They are also known as ‘Red imported fire ants’ (RIFA).
As an invasive species, they now live in many countries across the world, it is believed that they reached these countries via shipping crates.
These fire ants are more aggressive than most native species and so have pushed many species away from where their local habitat, even possibly into extinction.
Fire ants are renown for their ability to survive extreme conditions, they do not hibernate, but can survive cold conditions as low as -9°C (16°) despite originating from South America.
Fire ants can uniquely deal with a flood situation, they gather to form a raft with the queen in the middle, they float until they come across dry land, see fire ant videos below.
During droughts fire ants can also dig their nests deep to the water table.
To learn about one of the interesting ways in which we have chosen to control the invasive fire ants see bio control.
Solenopsis invicta (featured), Solenopsis sp.
Fire ants were originally found in South America. These ants are now a common pest in southern North America, Australia, Taiwan, Philippines and South China.
Fire ants normally nest underground in grassy areas creating soil mounds up to 50cm in height.
Fire ants eat dead animals, including insects, earthworms, and mammals. Workers also collect honeydew and will forage for sweets, proteins, and fats in homes. They are sometimes attracted to piles of dirty laundry.
Established colonies of fire ants have been found with up to 150 thousand to 2 million ants, with multiple queens.
Fire ant queens are typically 8-10mm. Darker brown with a reddish head and legs.
They are polygyn (multiple queens per colony), this also means that eradicating them as pests is very difficult.
3-6mm. Workers are typically reddish brown with darker abdomens.
Larger workers tend to protect the nest entrance.
Fire ants have a strong, painful and persistent sting that produces lumps on our skin which can last for days and even hospitalise some.
The FDA estimates an annual $5 billion spent on medical treatment, damage and control in infested areas because of this one ant species!
Fire ants species make great pets for ant owners. They are low maintenance, easy to find in the countries noted above, very tough, active, and long lasting. Multiple queens makes colony growth easier.
Their strong sting may deter beginners.