In the United States, imported fire ants currently inhabit all or parts of Alabama, Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Missouri, Mississippi, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Puerto Rico, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia. They are discovered sporadically in Maryland. The red imported fire ant has also been accidentally introduced to other countries. Imported fire ants will likely continue to spread throughout much of the southern portion of the U.S, and other parts of the world where climate conditions are suitable.
Accurate identification of fire ants can be especially important in the southwestern states, where native fire ant species are common and imported fire ants are rare. Although native fire ants are common urban pests, if they are controlled unnecessarily, especially in very dry climates, imported fire ants are more likely to invade new areas. For information about suspected fire ant invasions in West Texas and beyond, see the publication Living on the Edge: Management Considerations for Imported Fire Ants in Western Texas, Near or in Recently Infested Areas.
If you are unsure of the ant species you have, contact your county Extension office for identification help. Properly identifying ant species is the first step in determining the need and approach for control.
Here are some identification characteristics of imported fire ants:
|Side view of a fire ant. Nodes and stinger are visible.||Red imported fire ants have 4 "teeth" on each mandibles with 3 clypeal projections.||Two petiole nodes between the thorax and gaster.||10 segmented, elbowed antennae with a long scape (see segment 1, click photo to enlarge) and a two-segmented club (see segments 9 and 10).|
|Red imported fire ants have a reddish colored head and thorax. Black imported fire ants are darker. There may be gradations in color range.|
|Fire ants are small, only about 1/8 to 1/4-inch long. Variation in size is a distinguishing feature. Many other ant species are uniform in size.|
Where imported fire ants are common, most homeowners recognize them by the mounds they build or the stings they inflict. Their aggressive nature compared to other ant species is one such trait. If a mound is disturbed, usually hundreds of fire ant workers will swarm out and run up vertical surfaces to sting.
|Fire ant stings.|
Worker ants bite with chewing mouthparts and inject venom with their stingers aggressively and repeatedly. If you get stung, you may feel burning or tingling at the site. A day or so later, the imported fire ant's unique venom forms a characteristic white fluid-filled pustule or blister at the sting site. For more information, see Fire Ant Stings.
Watch what happens when a fire ant nest is disturbed: Disturbing a Fire Ant Mound.
|Imported fire ant mounds.|
|Fire ant foraging trails.|
|Fire ant mound sites||Fire ant brood|
These publications are also helpful: