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How To Deal With Fire Ants

July 04, 2022

By Daniel Baldwin, BCE, CCFS, CP-FS

Fire ants have a reputation for their bites and stings—and it’s well earned. But do these ants cause more serious harm (aside from pain) to their victims? Learn more about what fire ants look like, where you can find them, how to treat a fire ant bite, and how to get rid of these ants from your home and property.

What are fire ants?

Fire ants are an ant species that thrive in tropical regions. You can spot them by their dark brown, black, red, and yellow colors as well as their large size of 1–5 mm (compared to other ants). Fire ants are well known for their aggressive defense tactics like stinging and biting at once, using both their mandible mouthparts and venom-filled stingers. Fun fact: young fire ants that have undeveloped mouthparts and stingers play dead when under attack.

Fire ants communicate to each other through their secretions and with sounds made by rubbing their bodies against one another. Their nests are usually built on ground-level in a mound and range from two to four square feet. Fire ant lifespans can range from five weeks for workers to as much as seven years for queens. In those long seven years, queens can lay as many as 800 eggs per day.

What are red imported fire ants?

Red imported fire ants (RIFA) are a type of fire ant that is invasive to the U.S. They are native to South America and arrived in the states sometime between 1933 and 1945. The only real difference between RIFAs and regular fire ants is their teeth. RIFAs have three teeth while other fire ants only have two; however, you can only see these teeth in both types of ants under a microscope.

Where do fire ants live?

While they can tunnel virtually anywhere the soil is accommodating, they vastly prefer open, sunny areas. In these areas, they construct mounds for their nests by pushing and packing bits of dirt into the ant hills that you may have experienced stepping on as a kid. 

Fire ants can be found basically anywhere around the U.S., and while mounds are common, they can also tunnel and build underground nests without them, too. The only climates fire ants cannot tolerate are those that get severely cold or that lack water.

What do fire ants eat?

Fire ants are scavengers that can make a meal out of almost anything. Their favorite food sources include: 

  • Reptiles
  • Birds
  • Mammals
  • Plants 
  • Microscopic organisms
  • Any other food they can find that’s left unattended in or around your home

To deter fire ants from coming inside your home, make sure all perishable (and imperishable) edibles are zipped tight or kept inside sealed containers.

Do fire ants fly?

Some of them doMore specifically, the alates (reproductive fire ants) will develop wings to help them find a mate. Males will die immediately after mating, while females go on to shed their wings and build new colonies from their eggs.

Are fire ants dangerous?

As we know, fire ants are extremely aggressive due to the fact that they can both bite and sting (and tend to do so at the same time) when they feel under attack. The venom in their stingers is not only painful but has also been known to produce anaphylactic shock in humans in addition to pustules and other signs of allergic reaction. Fire ants can also spread bacterial diseases like other insects.

These ants are also invasive, which means they are a danger to their environments. They attack native ant species as well as poultry and planted grain.

How to get rid of fire ants

There are a few at-home methods you can try before calling a pest control professional, including:

  • Laying down some diatomaceous earth (this scratches ant’s skin and makes them more susceptible to dehydration and injury)
  • Pouring boiling water over mounds
  • Baiting and spraying, but these can also be toxic to your family and pets
    • Ask a pest control specialist for advice on baits and sprays that work before trying them on your own

No matter what method you choose, it’s important that you get fire ants out of your space so they don’t harm you and your family. If the remedies above don’t help control your fire ant infestation, contact a professional pest service, like Hawx. These companies have tested methods for specific types of pests to help locate nests and prevent future colonies from setting up around your home.

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