FIRE ANT IDENTIFICATION
There are 360 species of ants in the United States but only one red imported fire ant (Scolenopsis invicta
). Here’s what to look for…
1. In lawns, fire ant mounds can be flat or dome-shaped, and are usually just a few inches tall. Mounds look like sand that has been “worked,” but can reach up to two feet high (this is unlikely in a school scenario, where turf is maintained).
It is important to note that not seeing visible mounds does not mean there are no ants. In the heat of the summer, fire ants are often underground waiting for cooler temps!
2. In spring and fall, when weather is temperate, watch out for new mounds after a rainfall. Fire ants like to build their nests when the soil is damp and easy to maneuver.
3. Fire ant mounds do not have openings in the center top like other ant mounds. They enter and leave the mound through side and underground tunnels.
4. If you can safely examine the ants up close, you’ll see that fire ants are reddish brown to reddish black. They vary in length unlike other ant species that are uniform in size. For more on fire ant biology, peruse this illustrated guide courtesy of Texas A&M University.
NOTE: Fire ants are dangerous, especially to those who are allergic to their venom. Always use caution when approaching mounds and wear protective clothing like long pants, socks and shoes. Consult a pest or turf management professional or your local extension office whenever possible.
5. When you disturb the mounds with a long stick, fire ants explode out of the mound and travel vertically up whatever is disturbing them. This vertical climb is important because most native ants will not crawl up objects — or with such speed.
6. Another clue is white objects in the soil of the mound. These objects are the eggs, larvae and pupae (the “brood”) of developing fire ants.
7. Another unfortunate characteristic of the red imported fire ant is the burning sensation of their sting, coupled with the development of a fluid-filled pustule or blister.
NOTE: Learn more about fire ants and how they compare to native ants with our Online Ant Guide.
Fire ant mounds look like "worked" soil and have no opening at the top.