Fire ants (Solenopsis spp.)
are so named because of their painful sting,
not their bite. Like wasps, which are
closely related to ants, all ants have stingers.
While some ants use their stingers in defense of
the nest and to subdue prey, a few species, like
fire ants, possess a highly potent sting that is
able to drive off any animal intruder.
In the US, fire
ants and harvester
ants (Pogonomyrmex spp.) are
notorious for inflicting a painful sting. In order
to drive their stingers deep into the wound both
ants bite to anchor themselves before plunging
their stingers home. A small injection of venom,
which causes the burning sensation and allergic
reaction, completes the painful sting.
The red imported fire ant, Solenopsis
invicta, is a highly invasive species
currently distributed across the southern US from
coastal North Carolina to east Texas. Local
infestations have been found west to California.
Possible expansion (based on average annual
temperatures) could include all of central
California and western Oregon. It is not yet clear
how global climate change might affect future
distribution of these ants.
These ants can be difficult to distinguish
from other small, brown ants, unless you get
stung! They make extremely large mound nests that
may reach 18" in height and they are very
effective predators. In fact, even though this ant
is considered to be an invasive pest, when local
fire ant populations are eliminated farmers have
sometimes noticed a significant increase in other