How to Identify a Fire Ant Mound

Fire ants are more than just annoying insects that may leave itchy stings—they can also be destructive. The red-imported fire ant, often referred to as RIFA, is an invasive species and has been known to prey on other native insect species as well as plants, with some fire ants even preying on small mammals many times their own size. Their invasive and destructive behaviors are why it’s important to know how to recognize both the ants themselves and where they reside.

fire ant mound

The well-known red-imported fire ant is coppery reddish in color. However, there are other common ant species that are similar in color to fire ants, however, coloring may not be the best way to identify them. The most reliable but not advisable way to identify them is when they sting you. Though there are other ants that sting, the fire ant is more aggressive and responsible for most commonly experienced ant stings. Keep reading to learn how to look out for a red-imported fire ant mound, so you can avoid its pesky residents.

Shape, size, and color of fire ant mounds

In the United States, red-imported fire ants are found all across the south. Occasionally, they have been discovered as far north as Maryland but for the most part, their activity has been limited to southern and southeastern states. They have been spread across the country extensively by human transport, but have not been able to establish significant long-term populations outside of the quarantined areas. In fact, because red-imported fire ants haven’t yet managed to establish themselves across the country, the USDA has identified quarantined areas to help control the spread of the invasive species.

In those warmer climates where the red-imported fire ant has made itself at home, red-imported fire ant colonies usually create their mounds in open areas. Red-imported fire ant mounds are often loose piles of sand or dirt, with no obvious entry or exit point. They often appear after periods of heavy rain, and look comparatively fluffy to dirt around them. Red-imported fire ant mounds can be domed at the top or stay flat in shape, not usually growing very high if they’re located in grass. However, an undisturbed fire ant mound (particularly one not in turf) can grow over a foot in height. Because red-imported fire ants can be found in a variety of places, the color of fire ant mounds can also vary due to the soil type. While red-imported fire ants often prefer open areas, they can build mounds underneath timber or near fences so the fire ant mound is partially or completely obscured from view.

Unlike other ant mounds, red-imported fire ant mounds have no center. Instead, ants enter and exit the mound through tunnels underground. It’s important to note that although red-imported fire ants are readily found in the mound, most of the ants and the main nesting areas for that colony are underground. If a red-imported fire ant mound is built using a harder, denser soil, the tunnels that the fire ants travel through may become visible on the surface. This is one of the more obvious and helpful signs when it comes to identifying red-imported fire ant mounds.

The two easiest questions to ask yourself if you suspect that you see a red-imported fire ant mound are these:

● Is the mound larger than a baseball with no opening in the center?
● Does the mound appear fluffy and loose?

If you answer yes to either of these, it’s worth investigating further and calling in a professional since red-imported fire ants can leave one mound to create another and rapidly grow their colonies.

Fire ant colonies

If you’ve ever disturbed a fire ant mound—either purposely or accidentally—you’ve seen the way the fire ants swarm to attack invaders. Sometimes the sheer number of ants that emerge may seem impossible, however, all of those ants make up the colony residing within a single fire ant mound. Much like other ants, red-imported fire ants operate in well-organized colonies within their mound. One of the most well-known insects that also works in a colony is the honey bee. Honey bee colonies can be made up of thousands of bees, but only have one queen. Similarly, colonies within red imported fire ant mounds will also be made up of a lot of ants. One red-imported fire ant mound can have, on average, anywhere from 100,000 to 500,000 workers. Most fire ant colonies only have one queen and it’s her job to reproduce and lay new eggs. If a new queen emerges, it will either take control of the colony or leave to start a new one. Finally, inside the red-imported fire ant mound is the brood, which is comprised of eggs, larvae, and pupae of developing ants.

If you recognize a red-imported fire ant mound or suspect you have one nearby your home, contact a Terminix pest professional immediately. They’ll be able to help rid your yard of fire ants so you can enjoy your yard.


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