Fire ants are one of the most aggressive, invasive species of ants to be introduced to the United States. They are nearly impossible to eliminate, and they displace or kill off native species of ants as they spread. Though they are thought of as a nuisance in the United States, they do contribute in a positive way to the natural environment, whether in their native home or not.
As with most ant species, fire ants participate in the natural processes of decomposition by eating dead animals, dead insects, and other decaying organic matter. They also provide a food source for other creatures that have adapted to fire ants’ defense tactics. When you have fire ants on your property or invading your home, this can be a significant issue for your family and pets. Have you ever seen fire ants floating on water? Let’s take a closer look into how fire ants survive and figure out how fire ants float in floodwater and why.
Image via Flickr by Rick Hagerty
Fire ants are invasive ant species that have spread like wildfire throughout the United States. They are well-adapted to survive and thrive where ever they go and are becoming more common every year. Fire ants are most active during the summer months and will quickly overtake your property and surrounding areas if not dealt with shortly after you discover them. They are burrowing ants that create intricate nests that consist of underground chambers and tunnels.
The soil they remove when constructing their nests is moved to the surface and creates a mound that can measure between 7 and 12 inches in height and up to 2 feet in diameter. This mound is a call sign that lets you know your property is being infringed upon by fire ants. Fire ants typically won’t make nests inside of structures, including your home, but are capable of nesting in masonry or woodwork. These ants prefer to live in the ground and are only present inside your house when foraging for food and water.
Fire ants are considered to be armed and dangerous. Like many ants, fire ants have a toxic venom that they inject when they attack. Their stingers administer this venom. When a fire ant nest is disturbed intentionally or unintentionally, they use a coordinated attack in response. They will latch on to the intruder with their jaws and proceed to sting over and over again until they are removed or the intruder has been killed.
A fire ant attack can prove fatal to small pets, young wildlife, and humans that experience anaphylactic shock as a result of the attack. If you feel that you have a fire ant infestation on your property, a professional pest control agency could be of benefit. Fire ants are omnivores and will eat just about anything that crosses their path, making them remarkable survivalists. Not only do they thrive on many types of food sources, but they can also survive catastrophic events that take out their nests, such as flooding.
Floating fire ants are precisely that, fire ants that are floating on water. Fire ants have adapted to the environments in which they live, including the flooding that occurs in the southern United States during hurricane season. This is typically a concern from June through the end of November. As hurricanes and tropical storms surge and bring a surplus of rain to the southern regions of the United States, flooding of these areas is to be expected.
Fire ants have several unique ways of surviving floodwaters so they can rebuild their colonies on dry land. They have a waxy coating on the exterior of their exoskeleton that protects them from dehydration during hot temperatures. As it turns out, this coating has a two-fold purpose. Not only does the fire ants’ waxy coating protect them from drying out, it also dispels water, increasing their buoyancy. When floodwaters hit a fire ant colony, they will form a living floating raft by linking their legs together and holding on for dear life.
These floating rafts of venom are a significant concern and should be avoided at all costs. These rafts consist of entire colonies of fire ants just waiting to bump into something dry and stable, and you definitely don’t want that something to be you. As a reference, a fire ant colony with one queen can easily consist of 7 million ants. If you make that two queens, this number could rise to 40 million ants. Coming in contact with this many floating fire ants would be disastrous and could result in a lethal encounter.
If you are experiencing a floating fire ant problem on your property during flood season, contacting a professional exterminator might be the best course of action for you to take. Otherwise, it is recommended for your family and pets to avoid contact with floating fire ants at all costs. As of now, there hasn’t been any discovery of how to eliminate these floating colonies of fire ants on a massive scale, but research is being conducted to find a solution.
Meanwhile, if you have safe access to a floating fire ant raft and can safely disperse soapy water onto the raft, you can sink the raft and eliminate up to 90 percent of the colony. Dish soap will disrupt the raft by causing the ants to lose their grip and buoyancy. This has only been tested in small applications, and the soapy water also affects other insects such as water striders, so it isn’t a viable option for eliminating all floating fire ants.
Fire ants are bad news all around, especially when they are floating on water and in full-on survival mode. Avoiding these floating rafts of fire ant colonies is highly recommended for the safety risk they pose to your family and pets. Learning all you can about floating fire ants could save your life and the lives of your loved ones.