Identifying Possible New Pest

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The year 2020 will be one for the history books. It seems as if there is a new issue each month. This month, for Surry County, it is red imported fire ants. Their arrival has been anticipated and dreaded. They originated from Brazil and are generally seen East and South of Surry County. They have and are expected spread throughout the southern portion of the United States because of the suitable climate. They are in many of the counties in North Carolina as seen on the N.C. Map. We would prefer they take up residence elsewhere. They can create unsightly mounds on top of the ground in turf, damage field and electrical equipment, and injure animals and humans. Unless we can provide effective control measures before they set up shop, we may be seeing them frequently in the county.

It is important to know how to identify them correctly. There are numerous six-legged ants but only one red imported fire ant. They are relatively small as they range from 1/8-inch-long (worker ants) to 1/3-inch-long (queen ants). A few distinguishing characteristics of the red imported fire ant includes: the presence of two petiole nodes between the thorax and abdomen, the antennae are elbowed with ten segments on each antennae and there is variation in the size of the ants. eXtension has a useful resource “Identifying Fire Ants Guide” to help with identification.

Photo of a red imported fire ant worker and a diagram showing the distinguished features.

Red imported fire ants have a few distinguishing characteristics as shown in the diagram above.

Fire ants create mounds that vary in size but are usually in direct proportion to the size of the colony. It would not be unusual to find 100,000 worker ants, several hundred-winged adults and one queen in just one mound. They are dome shaped with no opening at the top of the mound. The opening may be found up to several feet away from the mound. If you break open the top of the mound, there will be small whitish larvae and pupae (immature ants) present. The visible portion of the mound in the “tip of the iceberg.” Mounds extend large distances underneath the ground. When mounds are disturbed, large numbers of ant may quickly flow out of the mound. The ants have the ability to bite and sting. As with bee and wasp stings, there are a small number of people highly allergic to fire ant stings and require immediate medical attention. Be cautious.

Photo of a red imported fire ant mound

Photo of a red imported fire ant mound.

For positive identification, take a specimen to your county’s Extension office.