Fire Ants

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Identification

  • Colour Reddish hue in shades ranging from medium to black.
  • Size Worker ants from 2 mm to 6 mm; queens can be up to 25 mm long.
  • Description Fire ants have two small segments or nodes between the thorax and abdomen, and a two-segmented club at the end of each antenna.

General Facts

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.

Habitat and Behaviour

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.

Fire Ant Bites

Known and feared for being aggressive when disturbed, fire ants pose a relatively recent threat in several Canadian provinces. The European fire ant is an introduced ant species; it began to appear more prevalently throughout Canada in the early 2000s. While many people assume fire ants bite when attacking, they actually use a combination of biting and stinging to inject venom and ward off intruders. To start the stinging process, fire ants bite the skin of the victim and pinch the tissue. The mandibles, or mouthparts, of the fire ant prick the skin and raise it enough to create a target for the stinger. Extending from the abdomen of the fire ant, the stinger is attached to an internal poison gland and resembles a hypodermic needle in structure. The fire ant thrusts the stinger into the raised skin held between the mandibles and injects the burning venom.

Fire ants are capable of stinging multiple times and often attack in swarms.

Symptoms

Though fatal to many small animals, fire ant bites usually only cause humans to have mild reactions of irritation. The venom of the sting initially produces the uncomfortable burning sensation for which the fire ant is named. Initial symptoms may also include itchiness, redness, and swelling at the site of the wound. The most distinctive symptom of a fire ant bite is the blister, called a pustule, that contains fluid and forms within six hours to a day after the sting occurs. The pustules typically diminish after a week or two and sometimes leave behind scabs or scarring lasting an additional three to ten days. While most humans endure mild and localized symptoms to fire ant bites, some people react more severely. People strongly allergic to the venom may experience difficulty breathing, an increased heart rate, swelling of the throat, nausea, vomiting, and shock. Symptoms indicative of a severe allergic reaction require immediate medical attention. Despite the potentially severe symptoms, less than 1% of fire ant bites result in anaphylaxis.

 

Why do I have fire ants?

Fire ants live in mounds of mud and leaf litter, and often make nests in areas that are moist with abundant sunlight, especially lawns, parks, fields, and meadows. They can colonize in nearly any variety of soil and can also nest in rotting stumps and logs or around the base of trees.

Attracted to the debris and litter left by humans, fire ants sometimes enter homes to find food and water, and may also nest around the base of a building.

Fire ants are foragers and will eat just about anything that serves as a protein source. This includes dead insects, fly larvae, grasshoppers, other ant species, caterpillars, and moths.

However, they are also aggressive and will attack and eat small, ground-dwelling vertebrates, and newly hatched lizards, snakes, turtles, quails, chickens, and song birds. The ants can even inflict fatal wounds on calves and deer fawns.

Carcasses of large animals also provide ample food for fire ants, which also attack and feed upon animals that are left immobile due to illness or wounds.

Because of their flexible diets, fire ants can easily infest new territories – and will even invade carpenter ant and termite nests, feed on the insects inside, and take up residence there.

How worried should I be about fire ants?

Fire ants are not afraid to challenge humans and have an extremely painful sting, akin to being burned by fire. The sting carries venomous alkaloids, which commonly causes pain, irritation, and pustules which may become infected if scratched.

For sensitive individuals, fire ant stings may cause a severe allergic reaction, leading to severe chest pain, nausea, severe sweating, loss of breath, serious swelling, slurred speech, and if not treated, death.

As well as the danger they pose to humans, their mounds can be unsightly, with some going as far as 1.5 metres deep, and 40 centimetres above ground.

They can also ruin crops, feeding on germinating seeds, and eating young corn, sorghum, and soybeans.

Fire ants are not easily removed, since they can form colonies with dozens of queens and up to 250,000 workers. To truly protect yourself and your family from fire ants, you need to use professional pest control services.

How can I prevent fire ants invading?

Clean up food debris and crumbs immediately, Remove any standing water around the property, Move wood piles away from structures, Trim back any overhanging trees and shrubs

Why do they bite?

Like other stinging insects, fire ants bite and sting when disturbed or threatened. The dreaded ant species lives in underground nests, which the insects defend aggressively. Fire ant nests feature a distinctive mound that pushes upwards and causes the surface of the ground to bulge visibly. Humans and other animals that inadvertently step on the mound often fall victim to fire ant attacks. In addition to the noticeable mound, the nests of fire ants frequently include tunnels located just beneath the surface of the ground. The aggressive insects habitually exit the nest to attack passers-by walking on the ground directly above the tunnels, as well. Fire ants also bite and sting when encountered aboveground while foraging for food.

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