Why are they called "imported" fire ants?

Imported Fire Ants June 10, 2014 Print Friendly and PDF

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The word "imported" in the approved common names of the fire ant species was probably a poor choice, because "imported" typically suggests that the ants were brought  into the United States on purpose. On the contrary, imported fire ants were accidentally introduced via trade ships traveling from South America, their native home, into the Port of Mobile, Alabama.

Disturbed fire ant mound, ants crawling up a boot.  Photo by Bart Drees.
A disturbed fire ant mound, ants crawling up a boot. Photo by Bart Drees.
The "fire ant" part of the name refers to the burning sensation you feel when you get stung, especially by several ants at once. With most people, the immediate burning sensation goes away in a few minutes. A day or so later, the fire ant's unique venom forms a white fluid-filled pustule, or blister, at the sting site.

Two species of imported fire ants are found in North America: The black imported fire ant arrived around 1918, and the red imported fire ant arrived around 1930. Since their arrival, they have spread rapidly throughout the southeastern United States and into parts of Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and California.

For the latest distribution of imported fire ants, please see Geographic Distribution of Fire Ants.

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This work is supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, New Technologies for Ag Extension project.