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Blog: The Little Ant With the Big Bite

Just speaking with Dr. Ronald Rapini during the summer meeting of the American Academy of Dermatology is enough to make you itch. That's how good he is at describing the vicious attack of the fire ant – as it bites and stings its way northward from its Southern roots.

A native of South America, this aggressive invader established the first Fire Ant Town around Mobile, Ala., in the early 1900s.

    


Courtesy Agricultural Research Service, USDA

Fire ants belong to the same species as wasps and bees.

 

Rumor has it that the little buggers were stowaways on steamers. Apparently they found American soil so friable (and American flesh so tender) that they have engaged in a relentless northern march, traveling first throughout the southeast and now up both the Eastern and Western seaboards.

Fire ants sport a chillingly descriptive Greek name – Solenopsis invecta, "Unvanquished Channel-Faced." I leave it to you to decide if the imported red fire ant is "channel-faced,"  but I defy you to deny that it is unvanquished.

Fire ants are a species of the Hymenoptera, the insect order that includes wasps and bees, and they share some basic characteristics.

Unlike their cousins, fire ants are only winged during the spring, when they await Eros' call to fly from their nests in a mating frenzy – after which their diaphanous wings drop away and they build ever-more-complicated colonies that can spread throughout entire fields.

They also adhere to their order's inclination to live in large, hierarchical societies arranged around a queen, with armies of workers bent on aggressive nest defense — much to the dismay of bumbling human feet.