Are Fire Ants Dangerous?
Fire ants have earned a fearsome reputation due to their painful stings. Most often the bites are administered by many ants aggressively attacking at the same time.
The victim then suffers from painful after-effects of fire ant venom, which includes a painful burning sensation, followed by itchy red bumps.
Though very rarely lethal, fire ant stings can elicit an allergic reaction, including anaphylactic shock, in people with suppressed immune systems, particularly from a multiple stinging incident.
How Do I Treat Fire Ant Bites?
You'll want to soothe the burning and itching sensation until it subsides on its own, usually within an hour.
Put ice in a towel and place it over the bite. You may also take an antihistamine or use a hydrocortisone cream to relieve itching.
Monitor the affected area for excessive swelling, itching or redness, or other symptoms like shortness of breath, hives, nausea, cramping, sweating, etc. that could indicate a severe allergic reaction. If this occurs, seek medical attention promptly.
Otherwise treat fire ant stings as you would stings of other insects. Keep the bites clean and try not to scratch to avoid secondary infections.
Within 24 hours the bite will become a small bump filled with pus-looking fluid.
Keep in mind, once you experience an allergic reaction to a fire ant sting, you have a 60% chance of having a similar or worse reaction if you are stung again.
Where Do Fire Ants Originate?
Fire ants are not native to the United States. They were accidentally imported to the United States in the 1930s, probably through the port of Mobile, Alabama.
Ships require ballast, or heavy weight, to maintain stability and balance on the ocean. Rocks and soil were frequently used as ballast until the modern innovation of pumping water for ballast. It's believed the fire ants arrived in soil from South America that was used for ship's ballasts.
By the 1950s, fire ants were spreading throughout Texas and beyond. Fire ants now infest the eastern two-thirds of Texas, and some urban areas in western Texas where they've replaced native ant species.
What Does a Fire Ant Look Like?
Fire ants range from small (1/16 inch) to large (almost ¼ inch) in length. The color is described as dull reddish brown to reddish black. They are most quickly identified by their aggressive attitude and ferocious biting!
What Do They Eat?
Fire ants feed mostly on young plants, all sorts of insects and seeds. They can attack small animals such as lizards and baby birds.
Fire ant workers are only able to consume liquid although they can cut and chew foods using their mandibles.
They regurgitate food for the other ants of the colony to feed on. This regurgitation and then sharing of food is one of the reasons baits work well against fire ants.
Where Do Fire Ants Live?
Fire ants build mounds, primarily in sunny, dry and open spaces. You're more likely to find a mound in a field or your yard than in a forest.
Fire ants are renowned for their ability to survive extreme heat and also cold, even though they do not hibernate.
Fire ants can become really concentrated in favorable areas with up to 100 mounds per acre!
Why Do Fire Ants Reproduce so Quickly?
Fire ant colonies start with a single female laying her first batch of eggs and tending to them for up to a month.
The eggs hatch into workers that will then start feeding the queen and assisting with maintaining and growing the colony.
The queen then gets on with the process of egg laying – producing up to 2000 eggs in a day! A fire ant colony will typically have 10 to 100 queens – all mass producing eggs! The queens can live several years whereas workers typically live weeks or possibly a few months.
A mature colony will start producing its own reproductive pairs to start new colonies and can have up to 100 000 individuals, sometimes even multiples of that.
How Are Fire Ants Exterminated?
Non-chemical Fire Ant Control
- Open the top of the mound to expose the chambers, and pour 2 to 4 gallons of boiling water into each mound. This works around 60% of the time.
- Biological controls include fungi, viruses, nematodes and bacteria. Like most biological controls these are only moderately effective although certain nematodes can achieve 80% effectiveness.
- Interestingly enough, another imported ant species, the crazy ant, has developed an antidote to the fire ant sting, rendering the fire ants attack ineffective. As a result the crazy ant is actually moving into territories previously occupied by fire ants.
Chemical Control Fire Ants
Mound or Targeted Treatments
- Mound drench or mound injection is when a chemical is applied into the chambers of the mound and into the soil that the mound is made of.
- Baiting around the mounds.
- This is a non-targeted approach that treats an entire area, using baits or insecticides.