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WHERE DO THESE ANTS COME FROM?

Though not a native species in North America, the red imported fire ant has become a common nuisance throughout the southern United States, ranging from Florida to California and as far north as Oklahoma and Virginia.

These ants were accidentally brought into the United States in the 1930s via a shipment of cargo. Initially transplanted into Alabama, they have spread and thrived throughout the southern states with the warm climate and lack of predators.

Fire ants favor warm sunny conditions, prefer dry fields and avoid shady areas such as woods. Typical mounds can grow up to 24 inches in diameter and 7 inches high. These colonies can contain several hundred thousand ants, including at least one queen.

WHAT HAPPENS WHEN THEY STING?

Fire ant stings are painful for most humans and fatal to some: if a victim experiences a severe reaction such as sweating, nausea or excessive itching, emergency medical services should be contacted immediately. 

When attacking, fire ants first use their mandibles to grip their prey, and then inject venom through a stinger. Their sting, which includes alkaloid venom, is highly irritating to humans and results in red bumps and white pustules, which can ultimately lead to scarring.

The sensation of a fire ant burn has been described as “stinging” and “intense burning,” and fire ants are known to attack potential threats or prey in large numbers. A fire ant colony may contain 100,000 to 500,000 insects, thus increasing the likelihood that multiple stings will be inflicted.

ALL ABOUT ANTS – THE MORE YOU KNOW

Appearance - Reddish, about 1.6 to 5 millimeters (less than a quarter of an inch)

Behavior, Diet & Habit- Typically nest in the ground.  Large colonies can have up to 250,000 workers. Very active and aggressive, they will sting any intruding animal repeatedly. Fire ants are omnivores, meaning they will feed on animal or vegetable sources of food. Known to eat meats along with greasy and sweet materials. The fire ant worker’s diet includes insects, earthworms, ticks, spiders, arthropod eggs, honeydew and other sweets. Young and newborn vertebrate animals eaten by fire ants include birds, rodents and calves. Generally, fire ants readily consume carrion (dead animals) regardless of whether the fire ants themselves caused the animal to die. Fire ant larvae are fed by the worker adults and eat only a liquid diet until their third larval instar is complete. Fourth instar larvae are capable of digesting solid foods.

Reproduction - Total time from egg to adult averages 30 days; workers may live up to 180 days; queens live two to six years.

HOW DO I KNOW IF I HAVE FIRE ANTS?

One common sign of fire ant activity is the worker and swarmer ants. Other signs can be their sandy earthen mounds, which are usually more visible after recent rainfall, or the complaints of customers who are being stung by ants.

Your local pest control professional should be contacted in the event of fire ant activity. Professionals can manage lawn infestations while securing homes against indoor invasions.

CAN I PREVENT THESE ANTS?

The most reliable method of fire ant treatment is to have your local pest control company perform an inspection and determine how to manage the fire ants in your home.

To avoid bites or stings outside the home, be cautious and observant where you step, sit or place items such as food or drinks. If you see a fire ant mound, keep an eye on the ground to watch for ant activity.

If you notice fire ant mounds, it’s important to contact a licensed pest professional at Westfall's Pest Control to inspect and treat the problem. For a free inspection and bug free guarantee, contact us at (941) 761-0125.

MORE ABOUT MOUNDS

The Red Imported Fire Ant builds mounds in almost any type of soil, but prefers open, sunny areas such as pastures, parks, lawns, meadows, and cultivated fields. Colonies can also be located in or under buildings. Mounds containing colonies can reach 18 inches in height, depending on the type of soil. Many times mounds are located in rotting logs and around stumps and trees.

The mound has no opening in the center like most Ant mounds. Red Imported Fire Ants enter and exit the mound through underground tunnels. When their mounds are disturbed, the workers will come out of the ground and sting the intruder very aggressively.

The Red Imported Fire Ant can have huge colonies with 300-500,000 workers foraging at distances of 100 yards. Fire ant activity ranges from the spring into fall months. During the spring and summer months, the active mounds send out winged swarmer ants whose sole job is to start new colonies.

Sometimes the Red Imported Fire Ant will nest inside buildings during the winter months under bathtubs (when on a slab), or next to hot water heaters. The Southern Fire Ant usually nests in loose soil, but at times they can be found in woodwork or masonry. Their nests may be seen as large crevices in the ground that spread out from 2-4 feet. Southern Fire Ant nests can also be found under houses, under boards or stones, or in cracks in the concrete.

Colonies frequently migrate from one site to another. The queen only needs a few workers to start a new colony. They can develop a new mound several hundred feet away from their previous location in a matter of hours.

Flooding causes colonies to leave their mounds and float until they can reach land to establish a new mound.

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It's the ultimate vehicle for an emergency flood escape. It can assemble itself in about 100 seconds, and keep thousands to millions of passengers safe and afloat for days, even weeks.

Floating clusters of fire ants are a feat of natural engineering, and some researchers wanted to know just how these ants create such safe, long-lasting rafts out of themselves. The result means they can survive floods in their native South American habitats as well as migrate long distances. [Image of fire-ant raft]

A team led by Nathan Mlot, a doctoral student studying bio-inspired engineering at Georgia Institute of Technology, collected fire ants by roadsides in Atlanta and then filmed and froze the ants when they formed these floating clusters.

Once deposited into water in the lab, a spherical cluster of ants spread outward, like a drop of molasses.

The ants grab onto one another just as they would any surface: Using claws, jaws and adhesive pads on their legs, which secrete an oily fluid that allows them to stick to relatively smooth surfaces, according to Mlot. Once complete, a raft takes on a pancake shape.

An individual ant's hard outer covering, called a cuticle, is hydrophobic, or water-repelling. The cuticle's rough surface allows an ant to trap air against its body when submerged; forming what is called a plastron layer. A massive group of ants, all linked together, has an enhanced water-repellent ability such that the whole group can float while preventing water from penetrating the raft, Mlot said.

Ant rafts appear to benefit from their makers' tiny size, according to the researchers.

"At the scale of millimeters, ants have great strength, high speed and the ability to trap air pockets when submerged, which in turn makes their rafts water repellent," they write in the most recent issue of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. "These abilities will likely vanish at large sizes."

The ant rafts have their own kryptonite, however: soap. It and other surfactants – substances that break up surface tension of the water – wreak havoc with the rafts.

"If you introduce just a small amount of soap to the surface of the water to lower surface tension then the raft will begin to immediately sink," he said. The individual ants lose their plastron layer and can drown within seconds, he said.

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