The majority of fire ants found in the southwestern and southern U.S. are actually invaders, a non-native species that are the red imported fire ant (RIFA). They have several names that include the ginger ant or tropical fire ants and the fire ant belongs to a variety of stinging ants with over 280 species worldwide.
Unlike other ants, which bite and spray acid into the wound, fire ants will bite only to get a grip and then sting with their abdomen to inject a toxic alkaloid venom called solenopsin. It can be quite a painful, burning sting to a human, hence the name “fire ant”. If you are sensitive to the fire ant sting, it can be deadly. The really neat thing about the venom is that it is both insecticidal and an antibiotic. Researchers are convinced that ant nurse workers will spray their young to protect them from microorganisms.
The RIFA was accidentally introduced into the states via a South American cargo ship that came into port in Mobile, Alabama, in the 1930’s. The RIFA is estimated to cost $5 billion dollars annually on medical treatment, damage and in pest control of RIFA infested areas. They also cause an estimated $750 million dollars in damage to agriculture, this includes veterinarian bills, crop damages and livestock losses. It is estimated that between 30-60% of people living in fire ant infested areas are stung each year.
The fire ants have bodies just like all other insects. They are broken up into sections, the head, the thorax, and the abdomen; they also have three pairs of legs and a pair of antennae. The fire ant can be identified by their copper brown head with darker abdomens. The worker ants are reddish to blackish in color and their size varies from 2mm to 6 mm (.12in to .24in) The nest will contain many different sizes of the fire ants. A typical fire ant colony will produce large mounds in open areas, and feed mostly on young plants, seeds, crickets, and even small animals.
One way to eliminate them is the Texas 2 step organic method of fire ant control; developed by Texas A&M University it provides suggestions for less toxic ways to remove the ants. However, a professional may use several different ways of eradicating the pest. Baiting, mound drenching and broadcasting of contact pesticides may be used. The best long term control products are used by most professionals. Some examples are, Permithrin Pro, Talstar, Talstar granules, and DeltaGard granules, Ascend, Amdro and the list goes on.
Getting rid of the fire ants is not easy. Fire ants nest in the soil, often near wet moist areas such as river banks, pond edges, watered lawns and even highway edges. Many times the nest will not be visible as it can be under objects such as timber, logs, bricks, rocks, and pavers. If there is no cover for the nest, you will see dome shaped mounds, mainly in fields, parks and lawns. Also, the heart of the nest can be quite deep in the soil so to get rid of them you will need to locate their main base of operation, their nest so to speak and asses which treatment will work best in the situation. But be very careful they are aggressive and will attack you; you may want to consider to contacting a professional to help you destroy these ants if you are not confident or have the tools to eliminate them on your own. I’ve seen too many people try this dance on their own, ending up only to get stung.
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