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.
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 their painful stings. In order to
drive their stingers deep into the wound both ants
bite first to anchor themselves before plunging
their stingers home. A small injection of venom,
which causes the burning sensation and allergic
reaction, completes the 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 [see range map below]. Local infestations have
been found west to California. Possible distribution
expansion could include all of central California
and western Oregon.
The red imported fire
ant is a small, brown ant [image] that 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
noticed a significant increase in other crop pests.