Red Imported Fire Ants 101Missy Henriksen
Tuesday, July 30, 2013
Common questions and answers about this aggressive ant
Ants are the most common
household pest in the United States. Some species such as odorous ants and pavement ants are simply
a nuisance to homeowners, but other species can pose health risks
or cause damage to a home. One such species is the red imported fire
What makes them
Fire ants get their name from their especially painful sting or
bite. The red imported fire ant (RIFA) is an invasive species from
Brazil and is known to be more aggressive than other species of
ants. They are red-yellow in color with an extruded stinger —
always at the ready for use. Some ant species need a specific food
source to survive, but RIFAs will eat almost anything, plant or
animal, that they can find.
RIFAs also have a unique way of surviving floods. The colony
will connect to form a ball and float until it encounters dry land.
When this occurs, RIFAs are an even greater threat because they do
not have the safety of a nest and are very hungry. They may be more
prone to attack and will sting with more venom than usual.
Where are they
Since being introduced to the U.S. in the 1930s, RIFAs have
throughout the South and West. They are regularly seen as far
north as Virginia, as far south as Florida, and as far west as
southern California. Small populations may be found in other states
and are usually associated with nurseries that have imported plants
from other states.
In places where fire ants are common, their nests are most
likely to be found outside in the soil or near structural
foundations. Most often, their nests are found under a covering
object such as stones, grass, or the base of a tree. They are also
attracted to electrical boxes and HVAC units, which can also be
common entry points into the home.
Do they present any health
For most people, the sting of the red imported fire ant causes a
raised welt that can become a white pustule and is very painful.
But rarely will someone be stung by a single ant. More likely, a
person stung by a RIFA will receive multiple stings from multiple
ants defending their nest. Ants use pheromones to communicate with
each other, so when one is in distress, others will come to its aid
— usually to the detriment of whomever disturbed the nest. For
about 2% of the population, stings from a red ant
can also cause anaphylactic shock.
How can I prevent
fire ant colonies can be very large and their stings are
painful for people who encounter them either on purpose or by
accident. The best way to treat for a fire ant problem is to
prevent them from nesting in your garden or home in the first
RIFAs can gain entry to a home through the electrical and HVAC
systems, as well as any cracks or crevices in the home’s structure.
To prevent an ant infestation, be sure all internal and external
cracks are sealed.
This species of ant also has a telltale mound nest structure. If
you see an ant nest that looks like it could be fire ants, be sure
to carefully avoid it. If you do encounter a nest and are stung by
fire ants, seek medical attention promptly.
Controlling red imported fire ants can be very difficult and may
only last for a short time as the ants tend to reinvade the next
season. If you suspect you have a fire ant infestation or if you
think you have a nest on your property, contact a licensed pest
professional right away. Do not attempt to move the nest
on your own. The sooner the infestation is treated, the less risk
there is of someone disturbing the nest and being stung.