Some types of ants play helpful roles in the garden, but fire ants can be highly destructive. These small reddish to dark-brown ants feed on other insects, small animals, germinating seeds, young shoots, fruit, and saplings. Like other types of ants, they will also nurse aphids to obtain their sweet excrement (honeydew). These pests have few natural predators and if disturbed, they attack aggressively, stinging the intruder.
Fire ants make conical nests 18″ in diameter and approximately 10″ high. Very large nests may extend as much as 5 ft. deep. Winged reproductive forms appear in spring and early summer. After mating, the male dies and the female establishes a new colony. Each nest may have one or more queens capable of laying up to 1,500 eggs a day in summer. Queens may live for several years. Eggs hatch in seven days, and the resulting worker ants are mature about 30 days later. To kill a fire ant nest, it’s essential to kill the queen. Native to South America, fire ants first appeared in the United States in 1929, in Alabama. They are now common in all southern states and are gradually extending their territory north and west. Fire ants can now be found as far north as Maryland and Oregon.
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