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Fire ants are found in a variety of global habits, including the southern part of the United States, South America, Asia and Australia. They are an invasive species, and when they come into contact with humans, they can impact our lives in a number of ways. Irritation and alarm at their presence are two common ways they affect humans, but they can also pose a health risk.
Fire ants eat, among other things, other insects. So, wherever there are fire ants, there is usually a decrease in ground-dwelling bugs, including plant-eating pests. That can have a positive influence on the local ecosystem in agricultural areas.
Fire ant colonies form mounds, which can be unsightly, especially on an otherwise flawless lawn. Fire ant mounds may also cause alarm, especially in homes with pets, as an inquisitive paw or snout may open up a mound, causing the ants to come out.
As well as unsightly mounds, fire ants have a painful sting. While painful, the bite should prove harmless to a healthy adult. However, young children and elderly people may be at higher risk from a fire ant bite. A fire ant sting is comparable in severity and pain level to that of a bee, but a fire ant sting is not barbed, meaning it can deliver multiple stings without dying.
Some fire ant stings can turn into raised lesions, which are unsightly, painful and prone to infection. The lesions will typically die down after a week or so, but will leave superficial scarring for a month and sometimes more. The lesions are red, with a white tip.
Typically, fire ants only become aggressive when their mound is disturbed, although they have been known to leave the nest and to invade human habitats. Fire ants may also attack in large numbers, putting the lives of children, the weak and elderly at risk. Professional pest control solutions are typically required for a fire ant invasion.
In cases where a healthy adult receives multiple fire ant stings, or a vulnerable child or elderly person receives a lower number of stings, death may occur -- although this is rare. In 1999, two nursing homes in Mississippi were invaded by fire ants, resulting in the death of two patients, one from each home. Workers at the home found trails of ants leading from a mound outside of the nursing home to the beds of the victims.
- University of Arkansas; Division of Agriculture: Twenty Questions About Fire Ants
- Mississippi State University: Fire Ants in Mississippi
- Science Daily: Fire Ants Can Attack Humans In Homes Or Health Care Facilities
- Texas A&M University; Aggie Horticulture: Beneficials in the Garden; Red Imported Fire Ant
- Image courtesy of Compfight.com