There are more ants on Earth than any other species. With such a prominent population, you would think that ants would cause more harm than good. In reality, though, ants can benefit their ecosystems greatly when they stay in their natural environment. For example, ants that make nests in the ground disrupt the soil, aerating and fertilizing it to create quality topsoil. Ants also aid in the natural process of decomposition by feeding on organic waste, other insects, and dead animals. 

As you can see, ants are an essential part of Earth's ecosystem. However, they invade your property, home, or garden, they become a pest to be reckoned with.

What Are Red Imported Fire Ants?

Image via Flickr by AlmogAlpha

The red imported fire ant (RIFA) is one of the two most common fire ants found in the United States. These ants are known as an overly invasive species of ant and are most active during the summer months. In most cases, by the time you notice fire ants on your property, they have already established themselves and will be hard to eliminate.

Along with being an invasive species, fire ants are some of the most aggressive ants in the world. They will displace other species of ants and will disrupt the lives of animals and humans that have the misfortune of agitating a fire ant nest. If you disturb one of their nests, you will soon discover that they come out in force to defend against any threat. They are very coordinated when they attack and can be deadly to family pets, young wildlife, and to humans that are prone to severe allergic reactions. 

Fire ants can bite, but this is not their primary form of defense. They have stingers that deliver a potent alkaloid venomand can sting multiple times when threatened. When on the attack, they will anchor themselves to the skin of their victims with their mandibles and then proceed to sting. 

What Do Red Imported Fire Ants Look Like?

Red Imported Fire Ants are similar to other types of ant species in that they have an abdomen, a thorax, and a head. They also have six legs, antennae, and a visible stinger. The RIFA have a black abdomen with a dull red color on the thorax and head.

The life cycle of the RIFA varies depending on which ant in the hierarchy you are discussing. Worker ants only live around five weeks, while a fire ant queen can live closer to seven years in ideal conditions. Fire ant colonies with only one queen can infest an acre of land with anywhere between 40 to 150 nests and around 7 million individual ants. Add more queens into the mix, and you could see upwards of 200 nests and a staggering 40 million or more individual ants in just one acre of land.

Where Do Red Imported Fire Ants Live?

The RIFA has made its home throughout the southern United States and has spread as far north as Oklahoma and Virginia. The nests of fire ants are very intricate in nature and are made up of underground chambers and tunnels. The soil that they remove to make their nests is typically found on top of the actual nest in mounds that can measure up to 2 feet wide and be as tall as 1 foot. Although this is how they prefer to nest, in dire situations, fire ants will nest in woodwork, buildings, or masonry.

The RIFA are omnivores and feed on animal and vegetable sources. They are not picky when it comes to what they eat, and their diets can consist of any of the following:

  • Dead animals that they may or may not have killed themselves.
  • Plant seeds and excretions.
  • Ticks, earthworms, spiders, insects, and arthropod eggs.
  • The young or newborn of vertebrate animals like birds, calves, and rodents.
  • Greasy materials, such as meat.
  • Sweets in the form of honeydew, sugary foods, and fruits.

Red Imported Fire Ant Control Solutions

Fire ants are troublesome to get rid of, and they can spread quickly, especially when a colony has more than one queen. When treating an area for fire ants, using broadcast baits and insecticides together as a two-step method works pretty well. Alternatively, you can try a few home remedies that might be effective. When the fire ant infestation is severe, you may want to have a professional exterminator handle the task for you.

If you decide to handle the problem on your own and want to use the two-step method, you will need to treat your whole yard with the broadcast bait and use a liquid insecticide solution to address the individual nest or nests. You will need to pour a considerable amount of the liquid solution into each nest to ensure that it reaches the deepest parts of the nest. You may need to perform the treatment several times to eliminate the ants completely.

One home remedy you can try will require you to have a five-gallon bucket that is about two-thirds full of water, a shovel, and a strong back. You will need to dig up the entire nest and place it into the bucket. Once you have the whole nest in the bucket, you will leave the ants in the bucket for a few days to die.

Another home remedy is one that utilizes hot water. You will need a bucket of scalding water, enough to reach the depths of the nest. Being careful not to burn yourself, you will proceed to pour the water slowly into the nest, allowing it to seep to the bottom. Keep in mind that this method will also kill your grass and any plants that the hot water contacts.

Despite being some of the smallest creatures on Earth, red imported fire ants can be a positive force for the environment. It's when you find them in the middle of a suburban neighborhood that they become a threat to your very way of life. Before you decide how to deal with an ant infestation, take the time to educate yourself as thoroughly as possible about this species and the options available to you.

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