There Are Two Types Of Fire Ant Colonies:
- Single-Queen, Or Monogyne, Colonies
- Multiple-Queen, Or Polygyne, Colonies
Single-queen colonies have only one egg-laying queen, and can contain 100,000 to 240,000 workers. Multiple-queen colonies have many egg-laying queens, with 100,000 to 500,000 workers. Single-queen colonies fight with other fire ant colonies. Because of this antagonistic behavior, colonies are farther apart, having a maximum of 150 mounds per acre. Multiple-queen colonies generally don’t fight with other multiple-queen colonies. Consequently, mounds are closer together, and can reach densities of 200 to 800 mounds per acre. Multiple-queen mounds may also be inconspicuous, often times being clusters of small, flattened excavations, in contrast to the distinct dome-shaped mounds of single-queen colonies. Workers from single-queen colonies vary in size, ranging in length from 1/8 to 1/4 in, and are usually reddish brown to black in color. Workers of multiple-queen colonies are generally smaller, have only a few large workers, and are lighter in color than single-queen colony workers. The large colony sizes, and the presence of numerous queens makes multiple-queen colonies more difficult to eliminate than single-queen colonies. Since 1973, multiple-queen colonies have been found in eight of the 11 fire ant infested states, including Florida. Multiple-queen colonies produce fewer winged, or alate, queens that will start new colonies after a mating flight than single-queen colonies. However, multiple-queen colonies can establish new colonies by budding, where a portion of the queens and workers splits off.
The spread of fire ants into new areas depends on factors like climate, surrounding fire ant populations, and the native predators and competitors in the areas. Areas with an abundance of natural enemies and competing ant species may hinder colony establishment because the enemies prey upon newly-mated queens and compete for resources. However, if an area is disturbed natural enemies or competitors may be adversely affected and fire ants may colonize the area more rapidly. It may take as long as 11 years for single-queen fire ant colonies to become the dominant ant species in a new area which has been disturbed by urbanization, and has not been treated with insecticides to control ants. Multiple-queen colonies may become dominant in new areas at a slower rate because they spread more by budding than by establishing numerous new colonies scattered throughout an area after mating flights.
In areas where native ants and fire ant populations have been reduced or eliminated with insecticides, re-infestation by fire ants may be noticeable within a month after treatment. Fire ants re-infest these areas more rapidly and outcompete other ant species because of their tremendous reproductive capacity and faster colony development. If fire ant control is not maintained, the subsequent re-infestation of an area may result in even greater fire ant populations than existed before the application of insecticides. The RIFA build mounds in a variety of soil types but seem to prefer open, sunny areas. They can also establish colonies in rotting logs, around stumps and trees, and in or under buildings. The average colony contains up to 500,000 workers. Worker ants are wingless, sterile females. They care for the queen and brood, forage for food, and protect the colony from intruders. The winged ants are reproductives and live in the mound until their mating flight. Mating flights are most common in the spring and fall, soon after a rainy period. Males die soon after mating, while the fertilized queen looks for a suitable nesting site. There she will shed her wings and begin digging a chamber in which to start a new colony. The new queen lays about a dozen eggs. When they hatch 7-10 days later, the larvae are fed by the queen. Larvae develop into pupae in 6-10 days. Adults emerge from pupae in 9-15 days. Later, when the queen is cared for by the workers she can lay up to 800 eggs a day. The queen can live seven years or more while the workers usually live about five weeks.
These ants were first introduced to the United States in appr. 1930 in Alabama. The red imported fire ant is now established over much of the Southeast. Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi, Oklahoma, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Puerto Rico have been invaded. Isolated colonies have been found as far west as California, and as far north as Kansas City, Missouri. RIFA were officially detected in Los Angeles and Orange Counties in November 1998. It is believed that they have been present since at least 1996. The ants are expected to colonize irrigated agricultural areas and lawns throughout California. Fire ants are aggressive and will defensively attack anything that disturbs them. After firmly grasping the skin with its jaws, the fire ant arches its back as it inserts its stinger into the skin, injecting venom. It then typically inflicts an average of seven to eight stings in a circular pattern. Symptoms of a sting include burning and itching, which usually subsides within 60 minutes. This is followed by the formation of a small blister at the site of each sting within a few hours. Although the stings are not usually life threatening, they are easily infected and may leave permanent scars. On rare occasions, anaphylaxis (a generalized, systemic allergic reaction to the stings) can occur, and may be life threatening. It usually occurs in persons sensitized by a previous sting. Signs of anaphylaxis may include flushing, general hives, swelling of the face, eyes, or throat, chest pains, nausea, severe sweating, loss of breath or slurred speech.
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