Living With European Fire Ants

European Fire Ant

European Fire Ant
Photo: Kjetil Fjellheim

Red ants that aggressively sting are commonly dubbed “fire ants” after the red color and a sting that feels like fire. The Red Imported Fire Ant, Solenopsis invicta does not extend its range past the southern United States, the cold winter weather in northern states limits their survival. The European Fire Ant, Myrmica rubra, has colonized parts of North America including Maine, and British Columbia. The ant makes a nest in soil and can be transported in nursery stock. The European Fire Ant, is in several locations in coastal Maine where the ocean moderates temperatures somewhat. Will the cold weather restrict it to the coast? Apparently not as a colony transported inland on nursery stock has survived several winters with very cold temperatures.

At this point the ant is spreading relatively slowly, making large jumps when whole colonies are moved by human activity. The effect on native species of insects by the European Fire Ant is under study. The European Fire Ant is associated with Caterpillars of Blue Butterflies in Europe. The caterpillars trick the ants into carrying them back to the nest, feeding and protecting them. It is a good defense for the caterpillars as predators avoid the nests and the Fire Ants that deliver painful stings.

About jjneal

Jonathan Neal is an Associate Professor of Entomology at Purdue University and author of the textbook, Living With Insects (2010). This blog is a forum to communicate about the intersection of insects with people and policy. This is a personal blog. The opinions and materials posted here are those of the author and are in no way connected with those of my employer.
This entry was posted in by jjneal, Environment, Invasive Species. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Living With European Fire Ants

  1. Max says:

    Interesting! I have one query though… I had always assumed Solenopsis to have a really painful sting deserving of the name ‘fire ant’, and it’s place in contemporary culture as something to be feared and avoided. However, as a European entomologist I know that Myrmica has a trivial sting that is not painful at all- I have had my hand in their nests and had hundreds up my arms with nothing but minor irritation… so is all the fuss about Solenopsis also exaggerated??

  2. jjneal says:

    Stings of Myrmica rubra in Maine have been reported to raise welts of 2 to 8 cm depending on the sensitivity of the individual. Perhaps the population in North America has a more potent sting than the ones you encounter? Perhaps some people are more sensitive to the stings and those are people who would report problems.

    Solenopsis invicta problem is not exaggerated. They often attack in mass when disturbed and victims can receive dozens of bites in a brief period.

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