Red imported fire ants, also referred to as RIFA, are becoming more and more common in the United States. With their increased numbers comes increased social, environmental, and economic impacts. Keeping the fire ant population under control is key to preventing further problems.
Red imported fire ants (solenopsis invicta) are small ants that only grow up to about a quarter inch long. They are coppery brown in color and tend to have a darker abdomen. The nests of fire ants can either be mounded or made of loose soil. They have no exit or entrance that is visible because RIFA enter and leave their nests via underground tunnels.
Fire ants are dangerous because of their aggressive behavior and painful stings. Large groups of fire ants can be especially dangerous, as a person can be stung multiple times. A fire ant sting will burn or itch for about an hour, but may then form pustules that can last up to 10 days. Most fire ant stings are painful, but are not life-threatening. Some sensitive populations, however, can have severe allergic reactions that can lead to anaphylaxis.
The fear of fire ants may lead to a decrease in social outdoor activities. Picnics, parties, and other forms of recreation may have to be moved or adjusted to avoid fire ants. Aside from social impacts, fire ants are also detrimental to the environment. Fire ants are native to South America and were brought to the U.S. via travel and trade. Fire ants are a hardy species, so they will displace native ant species and may change the balance of the flora and fauna in an area. Lastly, fire ants have a dramatic effect on the economy. It is estimated that 5 billion dollars is spent every year to control fire ants. Agriculture is the hardest hit industry, but they can also damage various electrical devices, and may hurt tourism and trade.
The most effective way to get rid of ants is with a combination of baiting and insecticides. Baits help to take down the colony from the inside out by killing the queen. Ant contact killers will take care of the ants you see and help to bring about a faster colony collapse.
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For more information, check out Ants: The Ultimate Guide.