Red Imported Fire Ant

Official Name

Solenopsis Invicta

Size

3 to 7 mm

Color

Red to Reddish-Brown

Geographical Location

Southeastern U.S

Common Household Location

Typically in a Field or Lawn

Identifying Characteristics

  • Winged reproductive fire ants look similar to termites but have elbowed antennae and a narrow waist between the abdomen and thorax.
  • Painful fire ant stings distinguish them from more docile ants.

Official Name

Solenopsis Invicta

Size

3 to 7 mm

Color

Red to Reddish-Brown

Geographical Location

Southeastern U.S

Common Household Location

Typically in a Field or Lawn

Identifying Characteristics

  • Winged reproductive fire ants look similar to termites but have elbowed antennae and a narrow waist between the abdomen and thorax.
  • Painful fire ant stings distinguish them from more docile ants.

Notes

When people refer to fire ants, they’re typically talking about the red imported fire ant (RIFA). Though this ant isn’t native to the U.S., it’s now widely found between Florida and California and north as far as Oklahoma and Virginia. The ant is originally from South America but arrived in Alabama in the 1930s with a shipment of cargo. Since that time, it has spread steadily across warm areas where it doesn’t find many natural predators.

 

Fire ants prefer to nest in the ground, and you may notice visible mounds around the entry points to their nests. A single RIFA colony can have as many as 250,000 workers. The small minor workers live between 30 and 60 days, medium-sized media workers live 60 to 90 days, and large major workers live 90 to 180 days. RIFA queens can live from two to six years. While most colonies have a single queen, these ants have been known to establish large multiple-queen colonies as well.

 

RIFA are omnivorous and consume a varied diet. This may include other insects, seeds, carrion, and honeydew from other insects. They can even consume young animals such as rodents, birds, or calves. In the home, fire ants will pursue meats, greasy foods, and sweet items.

 

RIFA propagate through mating flights that take place between spring and fall. The ants typically take flight on sunny days following rainstorms and mate around midday. Males die after mating. Fertilized females work together to establish a new nest, clustering under shelter. However, most queens are eventually killed, leaving a single queen to preside over the resulting colony. Within six months, a new RIFA colony can produce several thousand workers and expand to dominate a visible mound. One queen can produce up to 1,500 eggs in a single day.

 

Fire ants are a major pest. If a nest is disturbed, the ants swarm to the surface, stinging victims with an alkaloid venom. This is very painful and produces itchy pustules. In the southeastern U.S., five million people receive fire ant stings every year, and around 25,000 of these require medical attention.

 

Severe reactions to a fire ant sting include nausea, difficulty breathing, hives, cramping, and sweating. Anyone experiencing these symptoms should seek medical help immediately. In most cases, you can treat a fire ant sting with ice, an antihistamine, and a hydrocortisone cream.

 

It’s best to steer clear of RIFA nests if you’re not a trained extermination professional. Ants can sting multiple times, and each nest contains thousands of ants. These are a major pest, and they’re something that requires professional help with exterminating.