With more than 12,000 species of ants, there are numerous types of ants known as “fire ants.” Fire ants are ants in the genus Solenopsis, which includes over 200 species. The red imported fire ant, or Solenopsis invicta, is an invasive pest in many parts of the world, including the United States, China, Australia, and Taiwan. However, most fire ant species are not bothersome to humans.
The red imported fire ant, which is a very competitive and aggressive species, has been spreading north, west and south in Texas since the 1950’s. But where are they found in the state? Below, we will explore everything you need to know about fire ants in Texas, where they live, and how to identify them.
Fire Ants in Texas
If you’ve spent time in Texas, you’re undoubtedly already familiar with fire ants. They’re just everywhere now, but they weren’t always. The huge and active carpenter ants to the small, bothersome sugar ants are just a few native ants that may be found in Texas. Fire ants are an invasive species, and over two-thirds of Texas and a few urban areas are presently infested. In Texas, red imported fire ants pose a threat to animals, and in actuality, they contribute to the dwindling populations of some species. Knowing where the fire ants come from is essential to comprehending the Texas fire ant problem.
Where Are Fire Ants From?
Since they were smuggled into North America from Argentina in the 1930s, most likely as cargo stowaways, fire ants have been a serious problem in the southern United States. To survive, fire ants need warm, humid environments. These circumstances were present for the entirety of the species’ existence in their native South America. They quickly spread over Louisiana, Florida, and other southern states, displacing native ants and causing a disturbance in the environment with their many aggressive nests.
They traveled far to a port in Mobile, Alabama, probably as part of shipments of dirt, around 1930. Since then, they have made steady progress into much of the southern United States and have gained a strong presence there.
They kept expanding in all directions since they arrived in Texas in the 1950s. They can be spotted as far west as New Mexico, but somewhere in Oklahoma, when freezing temperatures become too harsh, they stop moving north. They currently control a considerable portion of Texas, barely slowing down in drier regions. They can be found practically anywhere, including bluebonnet fields, wide fields, and pastures.
Where Are Fire Ants Found in Texas?
In Texas, fire ants prefer to construct their mounds in open and bright regions and live in colonies. Fire ants create mound-shaped nests by burrowing into the ground. They may establish their nests in almost any type of soil. However, they favor open, sunny places like meadows, parks, playgrounds, pastures, lawns, and golf courses, in addition to agricultural land and wilderness regions. They can establish colonies in almost any type of soil and build their nests in decaying logs, stumps, and trees’ bases.
Red imported fire ants (RIFA) are dangerous insects that shouldn’t be present in the United States, but they have established a home here. At the moment, RIFA is primarily found in the subtropical southern states in the United States, including South Carolina, sections of North Carolina, Florida, Mississippi, Georgia, Louisiana, Virginia, Arkansas, Alabama, Tennessee, Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and California.
How to Identify Fire Ants
The head, thorax, and abdomen, along with three pairs of legs and a pair of antennae, are the three main body parts of mature fire ants, just like the bodies of all other typical mature insects. The worker ants range in size from 2 to 6 mm (0.079 to 0.236 in) and are blackish to reddish. They typically create nests or mounds roughly one foot high in grassy settings like pastures and lawns. Fire ant nests don’t have a single opening like most anthills, and the slope is covered in ants.
A few days after significant rain, you might notice a mound of fluffy working soil if you have a fire ant infestation. Unlike other ant mounds, this one doesn’t have an aperture in the middle. Red imported fire ants depart through underground tunnels and enter the mound that houses the colony.
Are Fire Ants Dangerous to Humans?
When their colony is disrupted, fire ants become quite aggressive. When triggered, they swarm the alleged intruder, biting to keep the skin still, and then relentlessly sting, delivering an alkaloid toxin known as solenopsin as their venom.
The terrifying moniker “fire ant” comes from the sting of these insects. While it may have been described as a bite, their stinger produces blistering poison, similar to a wasp or bee. There’s a good likelihood you’ll know if fire ants strike you. When their nests are disturbed, they rush in and swarm up surfaces (like your leg). Each fire ant has several stingers. They grab their prey with their powerful jaws to stabilize them before releasing solenopsin, a toxin, with a stinger jab.
The outcome is highly painful and frequently results in little red welts and blisters that itch and burn. Look for clusters of swollen, red dots that have a blister on top to detect fire ant stings. Stings can itch, hurt, and continue for a week. Fire ants are infamous for biting in numbers, crowding their prey, and stinging them dozens, if not hundreds, of times, even though a single sting is generally harmless.
What To Do When Stung By A Fire Ant
Some individuals may experience life-threatening allergic reactions to fire ant stings and require emergency medical attention. If stung by a fire ant, you can use ice, antihistamines, and hydrocortisone lotion to relieve burning and itching. Seek emergency medical assistance if the reaction appears more serious than usual or if you have considerable swelling or breathing difficulties.
Wash the affected area with soap and water, then apply a bandage to relieve you of moderate sting reactions. In approximately a week, the sting and bite marks should disappear. Infected skin might result from scratching, which can prolong the appearance of bite and sting marks.
How to Avoid Fire Ant Stings?
Keeping your distance from fire ants is the best defense against their stings. Avoid the urge to disturb a nest if you see one. Shoes and socks should be worn when working or playing outside.
Professional pest control firms will tackle the problem where fire ants are prevalent. Boiling water can also be used to drown a fire ant hill; however, doing so increases the likelihood that any remaining ants will attack.
Fire ants, unfortunately, are possibly a constant presence in Texas’ ecosystem due to their nature and obvious fondness for the state’s surroundings. Simply put, there are no known means to entirely remove them because they have expanded across a large enough area too quickly. In smaller spaces, like your yard, you can govern them in various ways.
How to Tell if You Have a Fire Ant Infestation
Identification is the initial stage in any problem-solving process. If you have ever lived in Texas, you are undoubtedly an expert at recognizing their mounds. To identify a fire ant problem, there are a few telling indications you can look for. Thousands of red and black ants will be visible if you have the misfortune of disturbing their nests. Hundreds of tiny white globs, either eggs or larvae, may also be visible. Large heaps of loose earth that resemble domed structures can be seen as a result of severe rainfall. Even though most of them are only less than an inch long, when gathered, they frequently reach heights over 18 inches!
Are Fire Ants Destructive to Texas Environment?
Like wild hogs and nutria, imported fire ants are a very troublesome invasive species. In addition to driving native ant species out of their environments, they have made it impossible for numerous other native animals to live since their invasion.
The aggressiveness of imported fire ants has severely caused Texas wildlife, such as the horned lizard, to decrease in population. These tiny insects have also stung songbirds, particularly ground-nesting birds like killdeer. Even larger animals’ young, such as deer and cattle, which are especially vulnerable while young, may be at risk from them.
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- Germania Insurance, Available here: https://germaniainsurance.com/blogs/post/germania-insurance-blog/2020/06/24/fire-ants-in-texas-where-did-they-come-from-and-how-can-they-be-stopped
- Adams Exterminating Company, Available here: https://www.adamspest.com/pest-library/profile/fire-ants
- Texas A&M AgriLife Extension, Available here: https://fireant.tamu.edu/manage/faq/#:~:text=Red%20imported%20fire%20ants%20are%20a%20very%20aggressive%2C%20efficient%20competitor,urban%20areas%20in%20western%20Texas