Fire Ants
Black inported fire ant, Solenopsis richteri Forell
Native fire ant, Solenopsis geminata (Fabricius)
Red imported fire ant, Solenopsis invicta Buren
Southern fire ant, Solenopsis xyloni McCook
Formicide, HYMENOPTERA


DESCRIPTION

The various stages of development are similar to the general description of ants. All species of fire ants closely resemble the red imported fire ant. Identification of the species is difficult but can be made by a specialist.


BIOLOGY

Distribution -- Since their introduction from South America in about 1918 through the port of Mobile, Alabama, imported fire ants have spread into Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Arkansas.

Host Plants -- Although soil infesting, imported fire ants feed on a wide variety of food, which includes insects, plant seeds and parts. They are predaceous on some agricultural pests.

Damage -- Fire ant damage is most significant to agriculture in losses resulting from reduced efficiency of labor and machinery and perhaps reduced land value.

These ants prefer land exposed to the sun; consequently valuable farming and pasture land may be heavily infested. In urban areas, these ants invade lawns, parks, play grounds, school yards, cemeteries and golf courses. Fire ants have a severe bite and sting and will attack anything that disturbs their nest. Each ant is capable of stinging several times. The sting causes a burning or itching to occur followed by the formation of a white pustule. Scratching of the pustule may lead to secondary infection which can leave a scar. Some people who are allergic to wasp and bee stings may also be allergic to fire ant stings.

Life History -- The red imported fire ant is the most troublesome species. It has taken over large areas in the South forcing out both the native and southern fire ant. The ant colony is made up of three forms: the winged fertile females (queens) which lay the eggs, winged fertile males (kings), and three classes (sizes) of worker ants called minim, minor and major workers. The queen lays and looks after the initial egg cluster. Later she only lays eggs as the workers take care of the other functions of the colony. The average colony may contain 100,000 to 500,000 workers and relatively few winged or reproductive forms. The short-lived males die shortly after mating with the queens in a large aerial mating swarm. The fertilized queens land and excavate a cell in which eggs are laid to start a new colony.


Control

These ants are scavengers as well as predators so the use of granular materials is advisable. Most treatments recommended either direct mound application or broadcast sprays, granules or baits. For recommended insecticides and rates and treatment methods, consult the state agricultural extension service recommendations.