Fire ants are notorious for dealing out painful stings to humans. There exists six documented fire ant species from the Solenopsis family in the United States, and Arizona is home to three of these species. These three species include the southern fire ant (S. xyloni) and two species of desert fire ants known as S. aurea and S. amblychila. The most well known and dangerous fire ant species, the red imported fire ant, has been documented in the two of Arizona’s neighboring states, California and New Mexico, but the species has not established a population within Arizona. Not long ago, a red imported fire ant colony was found in Yuma, but the colony was quickly eradicated.
Fire ant colonies are unique for containing a massive amount of individual fire ants. Colonies can contain anywhere from 100,000 to 500,000 ants depending on the fire ant species. These colonies grow rapidly, as fire ant queens produce between 1,500 to 5,000 eggs on a daily basis. Every winter all ants within a fire ant colony die while the queen goes on living for several years. Fire ant swarms emerge in Arizona during the summer months where winged reproductives mate while in the air. The male reproductives die soon after mating, but the female lives to establish and preside over her own colony as a queen.
The native southern fire ant in Arizona closely resembles the invasive red imported fire ant in physical appearance, as the native species has a brownish black exterior. The two desert fire ant species in Arizona look nearly identical unless viewed up close. Both of these species have a yellowish-red exterior color, and all three native species possess stingers that can inject painful venom into the bloodstream. The symptoms of their bites vary slightly from individual to individual, but most adults will not need to seek medical attention for native Arizona fire ant stings, but children are particularly vulnerable to fire ant stings. All three native fire ant species can wind up within homes, but the southern fire ant is the species that is most commonly spotted within Arizona homes, buildings and yards.
Do you believe that the red-imported fire ant will soon establish an invasive presence within Arizona?