These ants get their name from their ability to inflict especially painful bites and stings. There are two species that are most important: the southern fire ant, native to the United States and ranges from California to South Carolina to northern Florida and the imported red fire ant, which was introduced from Brazil at the port of Mobile, Alabama and can be found in the southeastern United States from Virginia through Texas.
Workers are of differing sizes, about 1/16 to ¼ in. long. The queens are an average of ¼ in. long. Fire ants can be distinguished from other ants by their copper brown head and body with a darker abdomen. The worker ants are blackish to reddish. Their profile is unevenly rounded with a stinger on the tail end. The antenna has 10 segments with the last 2 segments forming a club like appearance.
The red imported fire ant has single queen mounds that usually number 30-100 mounds per acre with 80,000 to 100,000 ants per colony. Multi-queen colonies may number 200-700- mounds per acre. A typical mound is rounded, up to 18” high and 24” in diameter, each having tunnels extending out several feet, just under the surface. A queen can produce up to 1500 eggs and lives 2-6 years. Fire ant eggs produce mature workers in 22-38 days. A mature nest can produce as many swarmers as 4,500 per year, with 6-8 mating flights occurring between spring and fall. Mating flights usually begin about 10 am, 1-2 says after a rain and at about 75 degrees F.
Mounds of the southern fire ant are flattened, irregular and cover 2 to 4 sq. ft. Swarmers are seen from May to October in the afternoon to early evening. The developmental time of the egg is as little as 44 days.
Colonies are founded by small groups of queens or single queens. Even if only one queen survives, within a month or so the colony can expand to thousands of ants.
Feeding and habitat:
Most fire ants are ground nesting ants. The southern fire ant nests outside are usually found near kitchens and then situated under coverings such as stones, in a clump of grass or in the soil at the base of a tree. They will sometimes nest in the wood or masonry of buildings, especially near something warm, like around a fireplace hearth. Each colony has its own territory and there is usually no movement between nests. They have a habit of building nests along foundation walls and are commonly introduced into new areas by potted or balled plants. They have been known to nest in homes and offices, under sidewalks and roadways, in parks and school yards and colonies have been found in cars, trucks and recreational vehicles. These nesting habits have proved to be very destructive and a great nuisance to humans.
Fire ants will sometimes nest in gas and water meter boxes and follow the pipes into a building.
Fire ants prefer food with high protein but will feed on almost anything, plant or animal and have been known to attack and kill small animals. The southern fire ant has been known to remove insulation from phone and electrical wires and to gnaw on clothing. They also feed on seeds, insects, young tree bark, honeydew from aphids and mealy bugs and other sweets.
The red imported fire ant is very destructive to vegetation. They eat the germinating seeds of some crops, burrow under soil and have eaten young potatoes, pods of peanuts and devoured the buds and developing fruit on trees. Pecan trees have been destroyed when imported fire ants girdled stems and trunks.
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Common Arizona ANTS
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