Fire ants, sometimes referred to as simply red ants, are stinging ants with over 280 species worldwide.
The bodies of fire ants, like all insects’ bodies, are broken up into three sections: the head, the thorax, and the abdomen, with three pairs of legs and a pair of antennae. Fire ants can be distinguished from other ants by their copper brown head and body with a darker abdomen. The worker ants are blackish to reddish, and their size varies from 2 mm to 6 mm (0.12 in to 0.24 in). These different sizes of the ants can all exist in the same nest.
Queens – a queen is generally the largest individual in the colony. The primary function of the queen is reproduction; she may live for 6-7 years and produce up to 1500 eggs per day. Many fire ant colonies will have more than one queen (potentially at least 100).
Males – the male ants’ only function is to mate with the queen and continue the species with his genes. Once done mating, the males continue on with their search for another queen.
Workers – the workers are sterile females who build and repair the nest, care for the young, defend the nest, and feed both young and adult ants.
Fire ants nest in the soil, often near moist areas, such as river banks, pond edges, watered lawns and highway edges. Usually the nest will not be visible as it will be built under objects such as timber, logs, rocks, pavers, bricks, etc. If there is no cover for nesting, dome-shaped mounds will be constructed, but this is usually only found in open spaces such as fields, parks and lawns. These mounds can reach heights of more than 40 cm (15.7 in).
Fire Ants feed mostly on young plants, seeds, and sometimes crickets. They often attack small animals and can kill them. Once the nest of the Fire Ants is interfered with they immediately attack in masses. The ants respond to pheromones that are released by the first ant to attack. They sting once any movement is sensed.
Unlike many other ants, which bite and then spray acid on the wound, fire ants only bite to get a grip and then sting (from the abdomen) and inject a toxic alkaloid venom (piperidine). The venom is both insecticidal and antibiotic. For humans, this is a painful sting, a sensation similar to what one feels when burned by fire hence the name Fire Ant. The aftereffects of the sting can be deadly to sensitive individuals. Some people are allergic to the venom and as with many allergies, may experience anaphylaxis, which requires emergency treatment. The bump often forms into a white pustule, which is at risk of becoming infected especially if burst. The pustules are unattractive and uncomfortable while active and, if the bite sites become infected, can turn into scars.
External treatments: a topical steroid cream (hydrocortisone), alcohol, bleach, a whipped mixture of egg whites and salt (spread over the affected skin for 30 minutes, removes the pain). Oral medicines: antihistamines.
For patients who experience severe or life threatening allergic reactions to fire ant insect stings, visit a doctor or hospital immediately as these reactions can result in death.
Please contact the Department of Agriculture at 469-5521 (Office),469–5603 (Fax), 2152 (Extension) of any sightings of Fire Ants.