Southern Fire Ant

Official Name

Solenopsis xyloni

Size

3 to 6 mm

Color

Amber Head and Thorax with Darker Abdomen

Geographical Location

Found in Southwestern U.S.

Common Household Location

Under carpet, in Crawl Spaces, and inside Wall Voids

Identifying Characteristics

  • Large eyes
  • Petiole between the abdomen and thorax of the ant features two nodes

Official Name

Solenopsis xyloni

Size

3 to 6 mm

Color

Amber Head and Thorax with Darker Abdomen

Geographical Location

Found in Southwestern U.S.

Common Household Location

Under carpet, in Crawl Spaces, and inside Wall Voids

Identifying Characteristics

  • Large eyes
  • Petiole between the abdomen and thorax of the ant features two nodes

Notes

The southern fire ant is native to the deserts of the Southwest, but you can find it today in areas ranging as far as the Carolinas to lowland Tennessee as well as southern Kansas to California. Observers have found this ant at elevations below 6,600 feet and as high as 8,250 feet. Colonies typically nest in loose soil. You may find them along riverbanks and ponds, beside the highway, and in well-watered lawns. They prefer areas around the bottom of tree trunks. A single nest will have several openings, and these shift with the season.

 

Inside the home, southern fire ants can nest inside wall cavities, under the carpet, and in crawl spaces where there’s loose dirt to burrow into. They’re often found near kitchens. They prefer oily and fatty foods but will consume a diverse range of foodstuffs, including seeds, nuts, and produce. Outside the home, fire ants will eat dead insects, young tree bark, and honeydew produced by other insects.

 

A single colony of southern fire ants can have as many as 10,000 workers and multiple queens. Reproductive ants take flight between May and September, typically taking to the air just after a rainstorm. Males die after mating, while the queen survives to return to her colony or establish a new nest.

 

The eggs, larvae, and pupae never leave the underground nest. These ants go through four larval stages. Most southern fire ants develop into small, or minor, workers. Several will become medium-sized media workers, and a few will develop into large major workers. The workers are sterile females. Only the queens can propagate the colony, and reproductive males live only through mating season.

 

Southern fire ants are a troublesome pest, as they can do serious damage to crops. They may damage developing fruit, chew new growth off trees, girdle and kill developing trees, and feed on flowers. Their nests have been known to plug irrigation lines. Like many ants, southern fire ants protect the insects that produce honeydew for them. However, this species is better at the job than many others and may help a pest propagate, disrupting the biological balance in a particular area.

 

When threatened, southern fire ants swarm out of their nest to attack. They both sting and bite, causing a great deal of pain to the intruder. You should seek professional assistance if you need to eradicate a fire ant nest. When you spot them in the home, sponge them with soapy water on sight. Block cracks, holes, or other entryways with petroleum jelly or caulk to prevent reentry.