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Swarming Fire Ants

By: Jasna Aleksandrova

While we are welcoming spring, with all the beauty nature serves us this time of the year, we also encounter uninvited guests like Red Imported Fire Ants. As it was explained in the previous blog, you don’t want these guests anywhere near you. The word “fire” in their name has a literal meaning. If you get stung by Fire Ants, the venom injected into your skin leaves a burning sensation. They aggressively swarm over anything that disturbs their nests.

The colony of Red Imported Fire Ants

Within the colony, the ants that do all of the manual labor are called “Worker Ants”. They take care of the queen and her eggs. They also build the nest and defend the colony if needed. Worker ants are also responsible for the food in the colony. Fire ants feed on protein-rich sources such as other insects and seeds. The worker ants are from 1/ 8 to 1/ 4 inch long and are dark-reddish-brown in color. They are similar in appearance to many of our common house and field ants which can make identification hard.

Reproduction of Red Imported Fire Ants

Other ants in the colony are responsible for the reproduction; the winged male and female ants. In spring and summer they fly out of the colony to mate in the air which is called a mating flight. When the mating process is over, the winged males die, while the winged females become queens and start new colonies.

The newly crowned queens go to find suitable nesting sites. When they find a suitable one, they shed their wings, and begin digging underground. The hole they dig is used to lay their eggs. Only the first eggs and larvae are cared for by the queen. After 3 to 4 weeks they emerge as worker ants and they start taking care of the queen. The winged ants are produced in the second half of the first year.

At 3 years old a colony is considered mature containing 100,000 to 500,000 worker ants and several hundred winged ants. The queen of the colony produces 1,500 to 5,000 eggs per day and never leaves the nest. She can live for many years.

Spreading of Red Imported Fire Ants

During the mating flights of the Red Imported Fire Ants they usually venture out one mile or less in distance from their nest. However, they can fly up to 12 miles if they wanted or needed to. Since they can also float downstream in masses they can spread further and faster during floods. Another interesting fact is that the winged females are attracted to reflective objects and sometimes settle on shiny cars in large numbers.

If you live in an area known for fire ants, be proactive. Red Imported Fire Ants can easily spread throughout your yard and get into your home. Regular inspections of your home, crawlspace and property is the fire step to prevention.

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