Red Ants

In the United States, there are many species of ants that are red in color. Many times people will call ants “red ants” because they do not know the correct name. However, the ant that is most often called the “red ant” is the red imported fire ant. Sometimes it is called by its initials—RIFA. In Spanish, they are known as hormiga colorada or hormiga fuego. However, in Portuguese, the red ants are called formiga lava-pé, or wash foot ant, and formiga de fogo.

Red imported fire ants are black and red in color, measuring 1.6 to 5 mm in length. They often nest in soil and other moist environments such as irrigated lawns and the edges of riverbanks and ponds. Red imported fire ants move eggs, larvae or pupae up and down in the galleries of their nest’s tunnels. A red imported fire ant colony may contain several queens and thousands of worker ants.

When provoked, red imported fire ants are aggressive insects, but they are most often seen building piles of soil outdoors. They feed on seeds, young plants and small insects such as crickets. They may attack and capture small animals, first biting their victims and then injecting them with alkaloid venom via an abdominal stinger.

When a red imported fire ant bites a human, the sensation is comparable to that of being touched by a lit match. After they bite, the ants hold on to the victim with their mandibles (jaws) and use their stinger to deliver their venom. Most people experience pain and red bumps, though a few individuals are allergic to the red imported fire ant and may experience a severe reaction. Emergency services should be contacted immediately if a sting victim experiences nausea, headache or difficulty breathing.

The red imported fire ant has become a major pest in several countries, including southern North America, the Philippines, Taiwan, Australia and south China.

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