Red Fire Ants
What’s In This Guide
“The ants go marching one by one, hurrah, hurrah…”
Actually, if this song were about red imported fire ants, the lyrics would say “go stinging one by one.” Fire ants sting humans by sinking their mandibles into the skin and swinging their abdomens around to inject venom. This venom serves a purpose: when used against prey, it can kill or paralyze. When injected into humans, the toxic alkaloids produce an immediate burning sensation at the entry site. A swelling soon appears and a blister forms. Within a short amount of time, the blister fills with pus. Venom begins to break down cells and tissues. Reaction to the venom may include nausea and vomiting, disorientation, dizziness, asthma and anaphalaytic shock. Usually the sting simply gets itchy and irritated. Less than 5% of people stung experience systemic anaphylactic reaction, which can be fatal.
No wonder it sounded like a good idea when Congress initiated a cooperative federal and state program in 1957 to eradicate red imported fire ants from 126 million acres…at a cost of $200 million over a 12-year period.
Genus and Species: Solenopis invicta
Work, Work, Work
The red imported fire ant has two stomachs: one for its own food supply, and one for the colony’s food supply. The second stomach is called a crop. The ants feed mostly on other insects but also attack small birds and other invertebrates. They especially like to eat soft fruits. Flea larvae, chinch bugs, cockroach eggs, ticks, and other insects are also on their menu.
The winged females go on mating flights and found new colonies. The male’s only job is to mate with the queen. Soon after mating, the male will die.
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The Mirex War
There is still a great deal of concern regarding the spread of the red imported fire ant. Competition with native ants has the potential of limiting its range. The best barrier, however, may be cold weather. One big question remains: can the red Imported fire ant breed with native ants and acquire a capacity to endure cold weather?