The mere mention of this tiny arthropod will get a exclamatory response every time. An omnivore is an animal or insect that eats both plants and animals. Anyone who knows anything about fire ants knows that they will eat leaves from plants, as well as attack small animals with ferocious, painful bites. Where did this little intruder come from, and is there a way to get rid of this pest?

The red, imported fire ant was brought into the United States in the 1930s, and now infests 260 million acres of land in the Southeast. Fire ants are aggressive, and their sting can cause a severe allergic reaction resulting in death from anaphylaxis. A fire ant’s sting causes immediate, intense pain, even if you are not allergic to their venom. Also, a worker ant will aggressively defend the mound by stinging the intruder repeatedly. They are considered an invasive pest in the United States.

There are two species of fire ants, and both came from South America. The first is easily identifiable by its reddish-brown coloring. Their mounds are approximately 18 inches wide, and can be found in yards, gardens, and anywhere that food is readily available. They will eat fruits, vegetables, and small animals. The solenopsis invicta has colonized at least 13 southeastern states.

Next, is the solenopsis richteri, which is a black to dark brown fire ant. They also build mounds, but they are taller than the mounds of the red fire ant. They have colonized several states in the Southeast, namely, Texas, Mississippi, and Alabama.

During Hurricane Harvey, huge balls of fire ants were seen floating in the flooded waters of Houston, Texas. These little insects are quite the problem solvers! Instead of drowning in their underground tunnels, the colonies united and formed clumps of ants known as “rafts.” The workers placed the queen, larvae, and eggs in the center of the ball to protect them. Then the worker ants hooked their legs together, and rotated periodically to keep from drowning themselves. In this manner, they could save themselves and the entire colony. Each floating clump of ants contained at least 100,000 ants, and stayed afloat until they found a drier home.

Unfortunately, the imported fire ant seems to have taken permanent residence in the southern states, and the best we can probably do is to manage the pest with poisoned bait of one sort or another. While it seems impossible to eradicate the invasive insect, it is important to reduce the colonies by tricking the workers into carrying the poisoned granules down to the queen. However, a new mound may appear after you have poisoned the existing colony. It seems that these little omnivores keep outsmarting us!

Sources:

https://fireant.tamu.edu/manage/faq/

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/312484

https://www.wired.com/story/why-those-floating-fire-ant-colonies-in-texas-are-such-bad-news/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fire_ant

https://knue.com/fire-ant-season-is-on-the-horizon-prepare-and-protect-the-kiddos/