FireAntEater™ Informational Article

Subfamily: Myrmicinae

  • Identifying characteristics:
  • - Body reddish with shiny dark brown gaster with stinger shiny
  • - Large eyes and 3 teeth on front of head
  • - Petiole with 2 nodes: no spines or thorax
  • - 10-segmented antennae with 2-segmented club
  • - Workers are polymorphic (different sizes):1/16 to 1/5 inch long
  • - Fire ant anatomy is similar to that of most ant species. Fire ants are red and black in coloration and, like all ants, they are protected by a hard exoskeleton and have six legs.
  • - Worker ants have round heads with mandibles, an armored thorax mid-section, called the mesosoma and an abdomen, called the gaster.
  • - The head is typically copper brown in color.
  • - After securing themselves to their prey with their mandibles, red fire ants use their stinger to inject the victim with alkaloid venom.
  • - In addition to their mandibles, fire ant workers and warriors also contain an abdominal stinger.

  • Colonies:
  • - Fire ants thrive in warm temperatures and seek uninterrupted sunlight, avoiding shady, dark areas. Open yards, fields, and parks are often infested. Mounds often appear suddenly especially after significant rainfall has made the ground too wet.
  • - Some fire ant colonies have only one queen per nest and are called “monogyne” colonies. Others can have many queens and are called “polygyne” colonies.
  • - Fire ant colonies are comprised of workers that do the jobs of nursery workers, defenders, and food gatherers and queens that reproduce. Most workers and fighters zealously protect their queens. After the colony has grown and developed, winged male and female ants develop.  Their job is to leave the colony to mate and start new colonies. After her mating flight, a fertilized fire ant queen lands and sheds her wings.
  • - Alternative colonies begin when a single fire ant queen leaves her multiple-queen colony in the attendance of a group of worker ants. The resulting mound will be located nearby, enlarging the overall colony. During movement, thousands of fire ants can be seen moving to new locations.
  • - Colonies may split and move to new locations.
  • - When the population of a single mound becomes large; the queen will produce winged male and female reproductive ants. These ants leave the colony in a massive mating flight. After females are fertilized, they land and shed their wings. The males die after mating.

  • Behavior:
  • - Fire ants feed on almost any plant or animal material, dead or alive, including other insects, ticks, ground-nesting animals, young trees, seedlings, plant buds, developing fruits, and seeds.
  • - In homes, forage on sweet foods, proteins, and fats.
  • - Travel in distinct trails
  • - Large of colonies of up to 500,000 workers with multiple queens.
  • - Very aggressive behavior if disturbed or when the nest or food source is disturbed. They will swarm out of nests and attack in large numbers and will readily run up and attack any object that touches their mound.

  • Nest type, size and shape:
  • - Nest in mounds with multiple openings in soil or lawns, usually in open sunny areas near a water source.
  • - If undisturbed, mounds may reach up to 18 inches high and 24 inches wide; they become dome-shaped after 2-3 years
  • - Nests sometimes found in buildings, wall voids, crawl spaces, or under carpets.
  • I- n areas that are not disturbed, red imported fire ants typically make dome-shaped mounds make that are about 18 inches across and about 8 to 12 inches tall. They resemble large gopher mounds or look like crumbly earth with small holes. Unlike the other ant species mentioned, red imported fire ants tend to build nests.
  • - A well-fed queen may lay up to 1600 eggs per day and grow the colony's population rapidly. To accommodate this growth, workers build an elaborate series of galleries and chambers, which act as both nurseries and living space for adult ants and all connected by an elaborate network of “fine” tunnels. Larvae are deposited in chambers close to the ground surface for warmth.
  • - As the population expands, the mounds grow, as well. Fire ant mounds average two feet in diameter and are approximately 18 inches high. Fire ant mounds serve to regulate underground temperatures. The ants move up and down in the galleries as the temperature changes.
  • - When one mound reaches maximum capacity, queens have been known to move out of the colony with a group of workers to establish new colonies close by.
  • - Disturbing the mound may cause the workers to move the queen or even the entire colony to another location.

  • Life cycle:
  • - Like that of other social Hymenoptera (ants, bees, and wasps), consists of four main stages: egg, larva, pupa, and adult.
  • - The egg, larval, and pupal stages occur within the underground nest and are only seen when nests are disturbed or when they are being carried to a different location by workers.
  • - The eggs are almost too small to be seen with the unaided eye. They hatch into the grub-like larvae that are fed by the workers.
  • - There are four larval instars (stages); the fourth larval instar is particularly important because it is the only stage that can ingest solid food. Once the larvae finish their growth, they molt into pupae, which look like adults except that their legs and antennae are held tightly against the body. These pupae are initially white, but begin to turn darker as they mature. In the final molt the pupa becomes an adult.
  • - Most larvae develop into sterile worker ants, all of them female and wingless. However, some larvae in the colony receive extra food during their development and become much larger than the larvae destined to become workers. These larger larvae will develop into reproductives. Large numbers of reproductives are normally produced once a year in the spring in preparation for a mating flight. These flights can occur more than once a year if conditions are favorable.
  • - The female reproductives are future queens and have wings. Male larvae develop into winged adult males that are black in color and have a smaller head and larger thorax than female reproductives. During a mating flight, the winged males and females fly and mate in midair before falling back to the ground. Males die shortly afterward; the mated queens remove their wings and dig a small hole in the soil and seal themselves inside. In the nest, the queens begin to lay eggs that develop into small worker ants in a month or two.
  • - In ideal conditions, queens have been known to live up to seven years. The average life span of a worker ant is five weeks.

  • Damage:
  • - Fire ants feed on almost any plant or animal material, dead or alive, including other insects, ticks, ground-nesting animals, young trees, seedlings, plant buds, developing fruits, and seeds. In addition to their stings, the red imported fire ant causes problems by building its nests around trees, yard plants, pipes, and in the walls of structures. Colony-building can damage plants, lawns, and outdoor electrical fixtures
  • - The red imported fire ant’s sting is a serious concern to people and their pets. Venom injected into the skin causes a burning sensation (hence the name “fire ant”). Both southern fire ants and red imported fire ants become very agitated when their nests are disturbed, but red imported fire ants are much more aggressive and can quickly climb onto the object or person causing the disturbance and begin stinging. A single red imported fire ant can bite and sting its victim repeatedly.
  • - Symptoms start as a burning and itching sensation followed by the formation of a white pustule, which takes several weeks to disappear. The pustules can become infected if not kept clean and may leave permanent scarring.
  • - A small percentage of the human population is allergic to these stings. If a person experiences chest pains, nausea, dizziness, or shock, they should seek emergency medical assistance immediately after a stinging incident. Avoid medical emergencies by teaching children and visitors about fire ants.

  • Black Fire Ants:
  • - Black fire ants, or Solenopsis richteri, were imported to North America. They are nearly identical in habits to red fire ants, and the only physical difference between them is in coloration.
  • - Black fire ants are believed to have originated in Argentina and Uruguay, in contrast to the red fire ant, which has been linked to Brazil for its point of origin.
  • - The red fire ant has gained a strong foothold throughout the Southern US, and is now commonly found as far west as California and as far east as Maryland. The black fire ant remains limited to a smaller region, consisting of Northern Mississippi and parts of Alabama.
  • - Black fire ants live in mound-based colonies. Black fire ant mounds can grow to be as large as two feet in diameter. Like red fire ants, black fire ant colonies can house multiple queens, and frequently grow as large as 500,000 insects.
  • - Forager ants are most active during the sunniest, hottest hours of the day.
  • - Black fire ants have a venomous sting, and a black fire ant's bite creates a red welt. If left untreated, these bites turn into painful white pustules and can lead to scarring. If a sting victim experiences severe headaches or nausea following a fire ant bite, seek professional treatment immediately. A small fragment of the population is allergic to the sting of the black fire ant.

  • Acknowledgements:
  • This article was created by compiling, editing and adding to numerous articles acknowledged hereafter: UC IPM  (at http//;  ORKIN  (at - SCA PEST (at -; Virginia Cooperative Education (at -; (at -; LM Week in Review (at -

The FireAntEater™ AntCrusher H-1000

  •      Anyone who has encountered a fire ant colony mound has observed the vicious frenzy created when the mound is disturbed in any way and the results can be quite painful. As explained above, this is a natural behavioral characteristic of the fire ant to “protect” the colony, particularly, the larvae deposited close to the ground surface.
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