European Fire Ants

Get Rid of European Fire Ants in Your Home or Business

General Information

The New England ant most commonly referred to as the “red ant” is the European fire ant, or Myrmica rubra. The European fire ant is common throughout northeastern areas of New England.

Characterized by reddish-brown coloration, which gives rise to its colloquial name, the insects nest in areas of high humidity, like those found in the summer months of New England. The aggressive nature of the ants makes them a formidable pest, especially in urban and suburban areas where recreational picnicking and other outdoor leisure activities are common.

Picture of European Fire Ants
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Appearance & Identification

What Does the European Fire Ant Look Like?
European fire ants are reddish-brown in color, measure about 4 to 5 mm in length, and have two, back-facing spines situated between the thorax and abdomen. The abdomen often appears shiny to the naked eye, while the rest of the body looks rough and raised.

The insect also possesses a stinger on the end of its abdomen. Queens often measure 6 mm in length and possess two pairs of transparent wings.

Habits/Habitat

When choosing areas to build nests, European fire ants look for materials that trap heat and humidity, such as topsoil, decaying logs, and rocks or large stones. European fire ants also prefer to nest among root systems of large trees. Irrigation on farms and regular watering of lawns, like those in suburban New England towns and cities, serve as ideal precursors for the insect to propagate and thrive.

Fire ants are historically aggressive insects that swarm when creating colonies, which sometimes pushes others species of ants out of given areas. The population densities of European fire ants can average as many as one and a half nests in a square-meter area with colonies numbering more than ten thousand worker ants.

Diet

What Does the European Fire Ant Eat?
European fire ants are omnivorous and eat both plant and decaying animal matter. Worker ants collect food sources by means of foraging and then bringing collected specimens back to the colony, where the food is fed to the larvae of the colony. The mature larvae are the only larva able to digest whole foods. The food is then liquefied by the larvae and redistributed back to adult members of the colony.

Reproduction

The process European fire ants use to build new colonies is called swarming or budding and includes members of an existing colony leaving or "budding" off to form new colonies, usually within close proximity to older swarms. Queens typically leave their nests to propagate elsewhere in late summer and early fall, during which time they mate with winged males from other colonies.

In the spring, the fertilized queens begin the process of laying eggs. It generally takes about two years to fully populate a new colony. Queens either leave their nests to overwinter alone or take small groups of workers to assist in foraging for food the following spring.

European fire ant larvae and pupae usually look white or creamy in color. Larvae are legless, while pupae bear some resemblance to adult workers.

The pupae grow into winged males, female workers, or additional queens to bud new colonies. European fire ant males die after mating with queens, who can live as long as seven years under ideal conditions.

Problems Caused by European Fire Ants

An aggressive species, European fire ants defend their nests if provoked. The innocuous nesting grounds fire ants choose for building colonies generally leads to increased odds of human beings or other animals disturbing the nest sites and, as a result, instigating a defensive response. The sting of a European fire ant often produces an allergic reaction in victims. In worst case scenarios, the sting has been known to send individuals into anaphylactic shock.

The small, invasive insect also holds a history of forcing other ant species out, which disrupts natural balances of ecosystems involving certain pests and plant life. Notably, European fire ants are known to affect agriculture in a negative way by inadvertently damaging crops in allowing populations of aphids and other destructive insects to feed on them.

Signs of Infestation

Signs of European fire ant infestation include visual sightings of the insect. Overturned or noticeably cultivated dirt may also clue homeowners into possible infestations; however, many ant species produce "mounds" above ground when building colonies.

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Prevention

Of the many methods to prevent European fire ant infestations, taking measures to reduce ideal harborage/environmental conditions for the ants proves the most advantageous. Homeowners should limit the amount of lawn watering done on a given property to reduce the amount of moisture, which European fire ants prefer when choosing possible nesting places.

Picking up lawn debris like downed limbs or removing large rocks from the premises also helps reduce the risk of infestation. Consistent mowing also lowers the risk of European fire ant infestations. If infestations are already present, homeowners may need to resort to chemical means of controlling the ant species, which should be applied by pest control specialists.