What Do Fire Ants Look Like?

By Ryn Gargulinski

Small and invasive, fire ants are named for their reddish color and, more importantly, their painful bits and stings. A fire ant sting can create an ugly red welt on an arm with a single prick. They are also known to wreck everything in their path, from vegetation to unsuspecting insects and even attack members of their own colony if the member is not performing up to par.


Fire ants come in two main types: the southern fire ant and the red imported fire ant. The two species have small differences in their identification and larger differences in their place of origin and where they thrive. The southern fire ant differs from the imported red fire ant in a few key areas. The former has three teeth in its jaw while the latter has four. The southern fire ant also has a tooth on the back of the top segment of the leg near the thorax which the imported ant lacks.


Southern states have it bad when it come to fire ants. The aptly named southern fire ant is a native American bug and can be found as far west as California, all across the nation to the southern area of South Carolina and northern Florida, the EnviroSafePC site said. As the name implies, the red imported fire ant has been imported from central Brazil and mainly hangs out in southeastern states, the site said, as far north as Virginia and as far south and inland as Texas.


In the world of ants are workers and the ever-powerful queen. Fire ant workers range from one-sixteenth to one-quarter inch long, while the queen grows to at least one-quarter inch, according to EnviroSafePC.com. Both workers and the queen share the same black color on the abdomen and a yellowish red on the head and thorax. The abdomen will be even darker in the reproductive regions. Both will have an antenna with 10 segments and an unevenly rounded thorax. Their legs feature two segments and most have the ever-dreaded stinger sticking out of their rear.


Fire ants are not nice creatures. They don’t get along well with other insects, humans or even fellow fire ants, according to the University of Texas site. Fire ant society is marked by fierce competition, where queens are constantly vying to be more productive than a competing queen. If workers feel one queen is not being productive enough for the colony, they will actually swarm toward her and attack. Wholly invasive, fire ants also take over an area, pushing out or killing off other ant species and wreaking havoc on the environment.


Even though the sting of the fire ant may not be as nasty as the sting inflicted by other ants, the fire ant is much more likely to attach, according to the University of Texas Web site. Fire ants are ruthless predators that feed on dead animals or, if no carcasses are to be found, go out and kill their own. While it may be a tad difficult for them to take down something like a black bear, they can easily kill and feed on insects and other ants. Fire ants are also known to invade a home, which they often do through pipes leading to gas or other utilities, the EnviroSafePC site said. They are attracted to electrical boxes and units, such as traffic signals and air conditioners, and can conglomerate inside where they make the unit malfunction.