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Fire ant Information, Appearance and Facts

Fire Ants or Red Ants

Fire ants are several species of ants in the genus Solenopsis, which includes over 200 species. Solenopsis are stinging ants, and most of their common names reflect this, for example, ginger ants and tropical fire ants. Many of the names shared by this genus are often used interchangeably to refer to other species of ant, such as the term red ant, mostly because of their similar coloration despite not being in the genus Solenopsis. Both Myrmica rubra and Pogonomyrmex barbatus are common examples of non-Solenopsis ants being termed red ants.

None of these names apply in all countries nor to all species of Solenopsis, nor only to Solenopsis species; for example the colloquial names for several species of weaver ants in the genus Oecophylla in Southeast Asia include “fire ants” because of their similar coloration and painful bites; the two genera, however, are not closely related. Wasmannia auropunctata is another unrelated ant commonly called the “little fire ant” due to its potent sting.

Appearance

Photograph by Adolfo Nazario

The bodies of mature fire ants, like the bodies of all typical mature insects, are divided into three sections: the head, the thorax, and the abdomen, with three pairs of legs and a pair of antennae. Fire ants of those species invasive in the United States can be distinguished from other ants locally present by their copper brown head and thorax with a darker abdomen. The worker ants are blackish to reddish and their size varies from 2 to 6 mm. In an established nest these different sizes of ants are all present at the same time.

Solenopsis spp. ants can be identified by three body features—a pedicel with two nodes, an unarmed propodeum, and antennae with 10 segments plus a two-segmented club. Many ants bite, and formicine ants can cause irritation by spraying formic acid; myrmecine ants like fire ants have a dedicated venom-injecting sting, which injects an alkaloid venom, as well as mandibles for biting.

Fire Ant Facts

Fire Ants are reddish brown in color, live in mounds by the thousands and worst of all intrude and sting. Learn more facts about these fiery pests.

  1. Fire Ants were accidentally brought into this country on a cargo boat from South America. Since arriving in Alabama, fire ants have spread aggressively, though they remain primarily in the South and Southeast because northern soil temperatures make it tough to survive the winters.
  2. Fire ants live in colonies, which can contain over 200,000 ants.
  3. Fire ant colonies are typically comprised of female worker ants and one queen, who is responsible for laying the eggs.
  4. Workers create underground tunnels that can extend up to 25 feet away from the mound.
  5. The fire ant lifecycle has four stages. Fire ants begin as eggs, which become larvae when hatched. Next, they transition to pupae and finally grow into adult ants.
  6. Fire ants feed on a wide range of foods including insects, honeydew, plant nectar, seeds, fruits, and dead animals. They are highly attracted to foods high in fat.
  7. It can take several months for a colony to grow a mound that is large enough to be visible.

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