Fire ants, both black and red, are an invasive species and their bites can be quite painful and in some cases, deadly. Identifying fire ants is difficult because they look much like ordinary ants. They’re 1/8″ — 1/4″ long and reddish brown to black in color, and are probably best distinguished by their aggressive behavior and characteristic mound-shaped nests.

Generally, mounds can swell up to 12″ or more in diameter and height. Completely neglected, mounds in excess of 2′ in diameter and height are not uncommon. The nests each contain several hundred-thousand ants, and can reach densities of up to 1,000 nests per acre. The underground portion is a series of interlocking galleries, tunnels and chambers that may extend to depths of 1′ – 5′ or more, depending on soil type, age and colony size. Tunnels just below the soil surface extend laterally several yards out from the mound, with regular exits where the ants come out to search for food or attack.

Fire ant mounds are often found with multiple queens, buried up to 25′ underground and supported by a complex network of other ants performing an amazing array of tasks. Those queens willing to share, have more successful colonies since it is harder to kill multiple queens. Worker ants live only a few months, but the queens live 2 years, producing about 1000 eggs a day!

When disturbed, fire ants are very aggressive. The ant grips the skin with its mandibles (jaws) and stings its victim several times in a circular pattern around the point of mandible attachment. Because of the ant’s aggressive nature and capacity for multiple stings, an attack usually results in several stings.

Some people who are stung experience only local reaction and temporary discomfort but, in most, a swollen red area will occur followed by a sterile pustule within 24 hours. Although the venom is bactericidal, secondary infections due to scratching may occur. While a single fire ant sting hurts less than a bee or wasp sting, the effect of multiple stings is painfully impressive.

If you find fire ant mounds in your yard, call Coastal Pest Control of the Treasure Coast at 772.879.0904.