Little fire ants, also called electric ants, are an invasive species of ant that American homeowners may encounter in their homes or backyards. Here are six things you need to know about them.
How do you identify little fire ants?
Little fire ants are very small: their bodies are approximately 1.5 millimeters (0.06 inches) long. They range in color from light to golden brown. Unlike other types of ants, all of the workers in a colony of little fire ants are the same size.
How do they spread?
Little fire ants are native to Central and South America, but over the last century, they've successfully spread to other regions with suitable climates. They spread by hitching a ride in international shipments of plants, plant materials, or other products. They can also be spread by airline passengers who bring plant material with them.
Once the ants have been brought to a new country or state, they continue to spread without human intervention. Existing colonies split and form new colonies, and through this process, the ants expand their range by about 170 meters (557 feet) every year.
Are they found throughout America?
Electric ants are a sub-tropical and tropical species, so much of the United States isn't a suitable habitat for them. They are a concern in states with warm year-round temperatures, like Florida and California. In colder states, you may see them in your greenhouse, but they won't be able to survive outdoors year-round.
Do they bite?
As their name suggests, little fire ants can give you a very painful bite. They're aggressive, so if you get too close, they won't hesitate to bite you. Painful, itchy pimples tend to form at the bite sites, and these pimples are persistent. The pain and itching can last for as long as three days.
It's possible to be allergic to the venom, and if you're among the unlucky few who are allergic, you may experience anaphylaxis after a bite. If your symptoms are more severe than pain and itching, seek emergency medical attention.
How can you control them indoors?
Little fire ants don't make nests like other types of ants; instead, they form colonies anywhere and everywhere. They may take up residence in wall cavities, in clothing, or in your furniture.
Ideally, you need to keep the ants from coming into your house in the first place by sealing any openings that would allow them entry, like gaps beneath doors or torn window screens. Also, make sure that the food in your house is not accessible to ants. You can do this by storing dry goods like cereals and sugars in plastic or glass containers with tight-fitting lids. Ensure that crumbs and spills are cleaned up quickly to avoid attracting ants.
If the ants are already inside, you need to find their colonies to control them. Watch the ants closely to see what hiding places they crawl into, and once you've found them, place ant baits near the entrance of the hiding place. Worker ants will take the poisoned bait to their queen, and killing the queen will destroy the colony.
How can you control them outdoors?
Outdoors, little fire ants may be found living in the soil, in trees, or under patio stones. Once you've located an outdoor colony, you can destroy it by drenching the colony with liquid insecticide. You can also use granular bait products; sprinkle the bait in the area around the colony and along areas where you have seen the ants walking.
Little fire ants are a nuisance due to their painful bite. If you're having trouble controlling them in your home or yard, call a pest control company like Cavanaugh's Professional Termite & Pest Services for help.