First introduced to the Southern United States in the 1920s, fire ants are characterized by their copper color and painful bite/sting, which can leave red or white welts on the skin and, in some cases, trigger fatal allergic reactions.  Although commonly found in open fields and pastures around the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area, fire ants are home invaders and are drawn by sugary and fatty foods.

    Size: 1/4 in.

    Color: Reddish-brown to reddish-black

    Body Structure: Head, thorax and abdomen with stinger on end of abdomen

    Characteristics: Fire ants reside in colonies, which often can contain more than 100,000 ants. The average lifespan of a worker fire ant is five months, whereas queens can live up to seven years.  In a day, queens can lay thousands of eggs, with fire ants going from larva to adulthood in approximately 30 days.  When a colony has a well-fed queen and the colony grows rapidly, queens may leave the colony with worker bees to establish new colonies nearby.  

    Habitat/Behavior: Fire ants prefer warm, dry surroundings and are often found in open fields or unshaded lawns. Fire ant mounds can grow to sizes of more than two feet in diameter and almost a foot high.  That said, fire ants may also build shallow mounds within soil or piles of mulch, making the colonies less easy to detect with the naked eye. Fire ants are intensely protective of their queens and will aggressively attack any animal, including humans, who come in the vicinity of a mound.  Fire ants attack the invader by first clamping down with their mandibles and then injecting venom via their stingers.

    Prevention/Treatment: As noted, fire ants are extremely territorial; they will attack if threatened.  Trying to treat a fire ant mound with granular pesticides yourself not only may be ineffective, but this also puts you in danger of being attacked.  If you spot a fire ant mound on your property, the best course of action is to contact a pest control professional who is trained to safely identify, treat and eliminate fire ant colonies.