Fire ants are notorious for inflicting extremely painful and potentially dangerous stings that have landed people in the emergency room. Both native and invasive fire ant stings have resulted in fatalities on numerous occasions, and these ants frequently infest residential lawns and sometimes homes where deadly envenomations have occured. Invasive fire ant species include red imported fire ants and black imported fire ants, and the most hazardous native species include southern fire ants and tropical fire ants. Since all fire ant species that have been known to cause death in the US can only be found in the southern states, people living in the northeast have no reason to worry about the highly venomous pests, right? Well, this is not necessarily true, as another non-native fire ant species known as the European fire ant is also dangerous to humans, and unfortunately, they can only be found in the northeastern states, including Massachusetts.

European fire ant workers are red in color and relatively small at only 3/16 of an inch in length, but what they lack in size they easily make up for in venom potency. Much like imported fire ants, European fire ants are tremendously aggressive, and will readily attack any human or animal that makes contact with, or even approaches their nesting sites or foraging areas. The pain caused by European fire ant stings vary from person-to-person, but most victims have described the pain as being comparable to a hornet sting and severe burning pain that lasts for hours or even days. Stings normally produce a red welt between two and ten cm wide and lasting soreness. Stings can also produce severe allergic reactions, including potentially fatal anaphylactic shock.

Pest issues involving European fire ants have been increasing in frequency since 2002, and colonies are proving difficult to eradicate. European fire ants do not disperse by swarming; instead, colonies contain multiple queens that depart and establish new colonies which contain between 2,000 and 10,000 individual ants. Since European fire ants nest within soil in a variety of northeastern landscapes, including residential lawns, the pests are commonly transported to homes in store bought soil and potted plants. For reasons that pest control professionals cannot understand, insecticide treatments only seem to temporarily suppress colonies, which has prompted researchers to develop new extermination methods that adequately control European fire ants. For the time being, pest control professionals are using granular baits to control these ants until a more effective management strategy becomes available.

Have ants ever infested your lawn?