Fire ant

Jump to navigation Jump to search
style="background:#Template:Taxobox colour;"|Template:Taxobox name
Solenopsis queens and workers
Solenopsis queens and workers
style="background:#Template:Taxobox colour;" | Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda
Class: Insecta
Order: Hymenoptera
Suborder: Apocrita
Family: Formicidae
Subfamily: Myrmicinae
Tribe: Solenopsidini
Genus: Solenopsis
Westwood, 1840

S. conjurata
S. daguerrei
S. fugax
S. invicta
S. molesta
S. richteri
S. solenopsidis
S. wagneri
S. xyloni
 many more, see text

Fire ants, sometimes referred to as simply red ants, are stinging ants with over 280 species worldwide. They have several common names including Ginger Ants and Tropical Fire Ants (English), aka-kami-ari (Japanese), and Feuerameise (German).


S. conjurata worker

The bodies of fire ants, like all insects' bodies, are broken up into three sections: the head, the thorax, and the abdomen, with three pairs of legs and a pair of antennae. Fire ants can be distinguished from other ants by their copper brown head and body with a darker abdomen. The worker ants are blackish to reddish, and their size varies from 2mm to 6 mm (0.12 in to 0.24 in). These different sizes of the ants can all exist in the same nest.


A typical fire ant colony produces large mounds in open areas, and feeds mostly on young plants, seeds, and sometimes crickets. 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 only bite 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 fire ant — and the aftereffects of the sting can be deadly to sensitive individuals. Although fire ants do not typically seek out and attack the face, they are as likely to attack an exposed and vulnerable face as any other body part. The venom is both insecticidal and antibiotic. Researchers have proposed that nurse workers will spray their brood to protect them from microorganisms.

Fire ants nest in the soil, often near moist areas, such as river banks, pond edges, watered lawns and highway edges. Usually the nest will not be visible as it will be built under objects such as timber, logs, rocks, pavers, bricks, etc. If there is no cover for nesting, dome-shaped mounds will be constructed, but this is usually only found in open spaces such as fields, parks and lawns. These mounds can reach heights of 40 cm (15.7 in).

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)[1].

File:Fire Ant Nest (3).jpg
Malaysian fire ant nest inside a leaf

In the Klang Valley of Malaysia, fire ants build nests in leaves by folding the leaf sideways and downwards over itself, with the queen inside, and then excreting a sticky white substance with which they bond and seal the fold. The excretion is also used inside the folded leaf to cover the queen and the eggs, like a kind of translucent duvet. It should also be noted that fire ants commonly construct their nests out of dug-out mounds and complex tunnel systems.

The ants guard the nest and fiercely attack intruders. Even the lightest touch brings them out in a fury.



A queen is generally the largest individual in the colony. The primary function of the queen is reproduction; she may live for 6-7 years and produce up to 1,500 eggs per day. Many fire ant colonies will have more than one queen.


Mate with the queen ant in order to produce eggs. Also defend their queen in the event of an attack or structural damage of the colony/mound.


The workers are sterile females who build and repair the nest, care for the young, defend the nest, and feed both young and adult ants.

Introduced species

Although most fire ant species do not bother people and are not invasive due to biological factors, Solenopsis invicta, commonly known as the Red imported fire ant (or RIFA) is an invasive pest in many areas of the world, notably the United States, Australia, the Philippines, China and Taiwan. The RIFA was accidentally introduced into the United States due to a South American cargo ship coming to an Alabama port in 1918, but now infests the majority of the Southern and Southwestern United States.

In the US, the FDA estimates that more than US$5 billion is spent annually on medical treatment, damage, and control in RIFA-infested areas. Furthermore, the ants cause approximately US$750 million in damage annually to agricultural assets, including veterinarian bills and livestock loss as well as crop loss.[2] Since September 2004, Taiwan has been seriously affected by the red fire ant.

The US, Taiwan and Australia all have ongoing national efforts to control or eradicate the species, but, other than Australia, none have been especially effective. In Australia an intensive program costing A$175 million has, at February 2007, eradicated 99% of fire ants from the sole infestation occurring in South East Queensland.

Symptoms and First aid

A human leg three days after coming in brief contact with a fire ant colony.

The venom of a fire ant sting causes stinging and swells into a bump. This can cause much pain and irritation at times, especially when stung repeatedly by several at once. The bump often forms into a white pustule, which is at risk of becoming infected. The pustules are unattractive and uncomfortable while active and, if the bite sites become infected, can turn into scars. Additionally, some people are allergic to the venom and, as with many allergies, may experience anaphylaxis, which requires emergency treatment.[3] An antihistamine or topical corticosteroids may help reduce the itching.

First aid for fire ant bites includes external treatments and oral medicines.

  • External treatments: a topical steroid cream (hydrocortisone), or one containing aloe vera.
  • Oral medicines: antihistamines

Patients who experience severe or life threatening allergic reactions to fire ant insect stings should visit a doctor or hospital immediately upon contact as these reactions can result in death.

Other names

In Spanish, fire ants are known as hormiga colorada/roja (red ant) or hormiga brava (fierce ant). In Puerto Rico there is a native, very small and slow-moving kind of fire ant called abayarde. In Portuguese, they are called formiga de fogo (fire ant) and formiga lava-pé (wash foot ant).


This species list is incomplete.


In CSI's episode Grave Danger, Nick Stokes a CSI member was attacked by a Solenopsis

In an episode of Bones, Season 2, Episode 15 "Bodies in the Book" one of the victims was killed by a Solenopsis


  1. Colonies in Florida dissected and observed with greater than 5 queens
  2. McDonald, Maggie (2006). "Reds Under Your Feet (interview with Robert Vander Meer)". New Scientist. 189 (2538): 50. Unknown parameter |quotes= ignored (help); Unknown parameter |month= ignored (help)
  3. deShazo RD, Butcher BT, Banks WA (1990). "Reactions to the stings of the imported fire ant". N. Engl. J. Med. 323 (7): 462–6. PMID 2197555.

External links

ar:نمل ناري de:Feuerameisen he:נמלי אש