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Fire Ants

Fire ant is the common name for several species of ants in the genus Solenopsis. They are, however, only a minority in the genus, which includes over 200 species of Solenopsis worldwide. Solenopsis are stinging ants and most of their common names reflect this, for example, ginger ants and tropical fire ants. Many species also are called red ants because of their light brown color, though species of ants in many other genera are similarly named for similar reasons. Examples include Myrmica rubra and Pogonomyrmex barbatus.

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 red color and painful sting; the two genera, however, are not closely related. Also, Wasmannia auropunctata is commonly called the "little fire ant".

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 body with a darker abdomen. The worker ants are blackish to reddish and their size varies from 2 to 6 mm (0.079 to 0.236 in). In an established nest these different sizes of ants all are 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.

A typical fire ant colony produces large mounds in open areas, and feeds mostly on young plants and seeds. Fire ants often attack small animals and can kill them. Unlike many other ants, which bite and then spray acid on the wound, fire ants bite only to get a grip and then sting (from the abdomen) and inject a toxic alkaloid venom called solenopsin, a compound from the class of piperidines. For humans, this is a painful sting, a sensation similar to what one feels when burned by fire (hence the name) and the after effects of the sting can be deadly to sensitive people. Fire ants are more aggressive than most native species and so have pushed many species away from their local habitat. One such species that Solenopsis ants parasitically take advantage of are bees, such as Euglossa imperialis, a non-social orchid bee species, from which the ants would enter the cells from below the nest and rob the cell's contents. These ants are renowned for their ability to survive extreme conditions. They do not hibernate, but can survive cold conditions, although this is costly to fire ant populations as observed during several winters in Tennessee, where 80 to 90% of colonies died due to several consecutive days of extremely low temperatures.

Fire ants have been known to form mutualistic relationships with several species of Lycaenidae and Riodinidae butterflies. In Lycaena rubidus larvae secrete a fluid that is high in sugar content. Fire ants bring the larvae back to the nest, and protect them through the pupa stage in exchange for feeding on the fluid. In Eurybia elvina, fire ants were observed to frequently construct soil shelters over later instars of larvae on inflorescences that the larvae are found.

Fire ants nest in the soil, often near moist areas, such as river banks, pond shores, watered lawns, and highway shoulders. Usually, the nest will not be visible, as it will be built under objects such as timber, logs, rocks, or bricks. If there is no cover for nesting, dome-shaped mounds will be constructed, but these are usually only found in open spaces, such as fields, parks and lawns. These mounds can reach heights of 40 cm (16 in), but can be even higher on heavier soils, standing at 1.0m in height and 1.5m in diameter. Colonies are founded by small groups of queens or single queens. Even if only one queen survives, within a month or so, the colony can expand to thousands of individuals. Some colonies may be polygynous (having multiple queens per nest).

Fire ants are resilient and can survive floods. During Hurricane Harvey in Texas, clumps of fire ants were seen clumped together on the surface of the water. Each clump had as many as 100,000 individual ants, who formed the temporary structure until finding a new permanent home.

Queen

Fire ant queens, the reproductive females in their colony, also are generally the largest. Their primary function is reproduction; fire ant queens may live up to 7 years and can produce up to 1,600 eggs per day, and colonies will have as many as 250,000 workers. The estimated potential life span is around 5.83 to 6.77 years.[16] Young, virgin fire ant queens have wings (as do male fire ants), but they rip them off after mating.

Males (drones)

Males mate with the queen. They die soon after mating.

Other roles

There are other types of roles in an ant colony like the workers and the soldier ants. The soldier ants are known for their larger and more powerful mandibles while the worker takes care of regular tasks (the main tasks in a colony are caring for the eggs/larvae/pupae, cleaning the nest, and foraging for food). However, Solenopsis daguerrei colonies contain no workers, as they are considered social parasites.