Identification / Appearance
- Reddish hue in shades ranging from medium to black
- Workers are 2 to 6 millimetres, Queens Up to 1 inch or 25 millimetres long (workers can be 3 to 13 mm)
- Two small segments (nodes) between the thorax and abdomen
- A two-segmented club at the end of each antenna
What Are Fire Ants? Fire ants are a variety of ant species with a painful sting and a sensation of similar to that of being burned by a fire. The workers are can range in size from 2 millimetres to 6 millimetres within the same colony, and the queens and male drones are larger still. One should take extreme caution to avoid fire ants, as the experience of being stung by these ants is quite unpleasant.
Why should I be concerned?
Hide your kids! Hide your pets! They’re going to bite and/or sting everyone and everything in their path. Fire ants will stand their ground and don’t have any reservations about challenging animals hundreds of times their size.
Fire ants will use their jaws to latch onto their targets and then sting their victims. The sting carries venomous alkaloids, which may cause an allergic reaction for some humans. For particularly sensitive individuals, a severe allergic reaction can lead to severe chest pain, nausea, severe sweating, loss of breath, serious swelling, slurred speech, fatality if not treated. The most common reactions will be pain, irritation, and pustules which may become infected if scratched.
Habitat and Behaviour
Where Do Fire Ants Live?
Originally from South America, fire ants have migrated to countries as far away for Australia. They live in mounds of mud and leaf litter, building underground tunnels to move around the colony. In open spaces, or the absence of natural shelter, they will dig into the ground to create colonies as much as 1.5 meters deep with a mound up to 40 centimetres tall. Fire ants tend to make nests in areas that are moist with abundant sunlight, especially lawns, parks, fields, and meadows. However, they have the ability to colonize in nearly any variety of soil. While the fire ant enjoys sunny areas, overly dry climates prove unfavorable habitats for the pest. Fire ants build nests by making mounds in moist, irrigated soil. Colonies are sometimes found in rotting stumps and logs or around the base of trees. As with other species of ants, fire ants are opportunistic foragers and often wander inside residences to find sustenance and water. Due to the convenience of an indoor food source, fire ants may nest around the base of a home or commercial building. Though typically found in warmer climates, European fire ants have become more prevalent in Canada in the recent past.
Fire ants will forage for food, attracted to the sweet secretions of plants and to debris and litter left by humans. However, they are also known to be very active and aggressive and will kill other insects and small animals to feed the colony. They will also sting any intruding animal.
Although these ants will bite, they use their jaws in order to latch onto their targets and then sting their victims. The sting carries venomous alkaloids, which may cause an allergic reaction for some humans. For particularly sensitive individuals, a severe allergic reaction can lead to severe chest pain, nausea, severe sweating, loss of breath, serious swelling, slurred speech, fatality if not treated. The most common reactions will be pain, irritation, and pustules which may become infected if scratched. Read more about Fire Ant Bites.
What Do Fire Ants Eat?
The fire ant is an emerging pest in Canada that feeds on a variety of substances. Omnivorous in nature, fire ants eat both plant and animal materials and only require foods that contain protein, fat, or carbohydrates. Because of their flexible diets, fire ants can easily infest new territories.
Like many ant species, fire ants forage for plant materials such as sweet plant nectars and honeydew secreted from insects that feed on plant sap. Fire ants also feed on germinating seeds of crops. Known to eat young corn, sorghum, and soybeans, fire ants can cause considerable damage to annual productions.
As scavengers, fire ants deconstruct and eat dead organisms found while foraging. The pests commonly eat dead insects but will feed on just about any organism that serves as a protein source. Carcasses of large animals provide ample food for the opportunistic pests. Animals that are left immobile due to illness or wounds may even be attacked and fed upon by fire ants.
In addition to foraging for food, fire ants are active predators that kill and eat living insects and other small animals. Most often, fire ants prey on insects like fly larvae, grasshoppers, and other ant species. The pests also feed on all the life stages of caterpillars and moths. Small, ground-dwelling vertebrates can be attacked by fire ants, as well. The pests are most harmful to young animals and will attack and kill newly hatched reptiles, such as lizards, snakes, and turtles, as well as fowls like quails, chickens, and song birds. Fire ants can even inflict life-threatening injuries on calves and deer fawns.
Some individuals believe fire ants eat wood, but the notion is incorrect. Fire ants are known to invade carpenter ant and termite nests, feed on the insects inside, and take residence in the dwellings. As a result, individuals may associate fire ants with the wood damage caused by the original inhabitants. Fire ants do not consume wood, nor do they chew structural materials to build nests.
A single colony could have dozens of queens, with each one laying up to 2,000 eggs per day. A healthy colony may have up to 250,000 workers!
Tips for prevention and control
These tips may help you get rid of fire ants in your home:
- Food debris and crumbs will attract ants indoors
- Eliminate any standing water,
- Wood piles should be moved away from structures
- Overhanging trees should be pruned or trimmed so that they are not in contact with the structure
A home inspection may help to get rid of fire ants.
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