- Fire ants first entered the United States about 1918, near Mobile, Alabama.
- Fire ants reached Mississippi around 1930.
- Fire ants now occur over much of the Southeast. [USDA fire ant quarantine map]
- Northern migration of fire ants will likely be limited by cold—winter temperatures that freeze the soil deeply enough to affect overwintering colonies.
- There are two species of fire ants in the state. Red imported fire ants are the most common, but some areas have black imported fire ants, or hybrids of these two species. These two species are similar in biology and behavior.
- Fire ants are social insects that nest in the soil in large colonies that contain tens of thousands to more than 200,000 ants.
- Most of the ants in a fire ant colony are infertile, female workers.
- Worker fire ants vary in size, but all are capable of stinging.
- Usually there is only one queen per colony. The queen lays the eggs.
- Fire ants have a complete life cycle. The eggs hatch into legless larvae, which develop into pupae and ultimately become adults.
- Fire ants feed on a wide range of foods, including insects, honeydew, plant nectar, seeds, fruit and animal carcasses. They especially like foods high in fat.
- Foraging workers exit the mound through underground tunnels that radiate away from the mound, exiting to the surface five to 25 feet away from the mound.
- Adult fire ants are incapable of swallowing solid food. They have to carry it back to the mound.
- Solid food is fed to the larger larvae, which chew and digest it and regurgitate it in liquid form.
- Liquid food is passed from the larvae back to the workers and then shared with all ants in the colony.
- Fire ants spread by swarming. Unmated, winged reproductive male and female ants exit the mound in mass, fly into the air and mate while airborne.
- Newly mated fire ant queens fall back to the ground within a few hundred yards to a few miles of the mound from which they emerged, shed their wings and attempt to start new colonies.
- At first the new queen is ‘on her own’. She lays a few eggs that eventually become small workers. These first workers then help care for their younger sisters and the colony begins to grow.
- It takes several months for a colony to get large enough to build a mound large enough to be noticed in the average home lawn.
- For every large mound in a lawn there are usually many younger colonies that are still too small to produce visible mounds.
- Once a young fire ant colony is well established and has a few thousand workers, it can quickly develop into a mature colony containing tens of thousands of ants.
- Small colonies develop into large colonies especially quickly if there are no bigger colonies nearby to compete with them.
Dr. Blake Layton, Extension Entomology Specialist
Department of Entomology, Mississippi State University
Phone: (662) 325-2085
STARKVILLE, Miss. -- Southern farmers may never win the battle against imported fire ants, but aggressive tactics can slow the pests’ invasion, reduce damage and prevent further spread across the United States.
Jane Parish is an Extension/research professor with the Mississippi State University Extension Service and the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station. She said cattle and hay producers have learned to live with and work around the troublesome ants since the pests arrived in the state almost a century ago.
STARKVILLE, Miss. -- People have many misconceptions on how to eliminate fire ant mounds and prevent them from coming back, and these erroneous beliefs hinder efforts to keep the harmful pest from spreading.
RAYMOND, Miss. -- Fire ants can be more than unwelcome guests in the home lawn; their stings can be dangerous for children and pets who share play areas with the pests.
Fire ant stings are characterized by sharp localized pain, swelling and intense itchiness that is just a short-lived nuisance for most. A raised red bump appears soon after the sting and soon turns into a sterile pustule that resembles a pimple. However, the ants’ venom can cause severe allergic reactions in some people and pets.
STARKVILLE, Miss. -- Blake Layton grew up quail hunting in Simpson County and has seen the steady decline of quail as fire ant populations expanded across the state.
Layton, an entomologist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, said the farm he grew up on has the same habitat as it did when he was a child, but it has more fire ants and fewer quail and other wildlife species.
STARKVILLE, Miss. -- Tell Mississippians that fire ants have completely invaded the state, and they’ll probably shrug and say they already know that. Tell them the pain actually comes from a sting rather than a bite, and they’ll say it still hurts. But tell them how to get rid of the nasty critters, and they’re all ears.
The Mississippi State University Extension Service is organizing efforts to help residents Bite Back against fire ants. The solution is a simple two-part attack, but success comes in the long-term follow-through.