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Imported Red Fire Ants - A threat to the environment in California

Biologists fear Red Imported Fire Ants may become a significant threat to a variety of California animals and plants. The naturally aggressive Red Imported Fire Ants sting anything that disturbs their nests. They will attack lizards, squirrels, baby birds, such as quail, and even newborn deer. They also pose a threat to endangered species such as the California gnat catcher, the California least tern and the kangaroo rat.

Red Imported Fire Ant attacking a corn worm
Red Imported Fire Ant   attacking a corn worm. (Photo/Texas A&M University)


In addition, the ants threaten this state's $26 billion agriculture industry and could attack agricultural workers and beneficial insects that protect crops. Red Imported Fire Ants also attack plants, gnawing bark off citrus trees and feeding on citrus fruit, strawberries, corn and other important crops.

Where They Nest

Red Imported Fire Ants commonly infest lawns, school yards, athletic fields, golf courses and parks, where they pose a health threat to people, pets and wildlife.

Homes and Buildings

Red Imported Fire Ants form colonies close to homes and other buildings, and they sometimes forage indoors for food and moisture, particularly during the hot, dry summer months. Entire colonies occasionally nest in walls or rafters, sometimes moving into buildings during wet weather. Once inside, they can threaten sleeping or bedridden individuals, and pets.

Home Gardens

Red Imported Fire Ants occasionally feed on vegetable plants in home gardens. The worst damage usually occurs during hot, dry weather. Red Imported Fire Ants may also be a nuisance to gardeners during weeding and harvesting.

Red Imported Fire Ant mound at base of home. (Photo/University of California Cooperative Extension)

Red Imported Fire Ant colony in electrical box. (Photo/University of California Cooperative Extension)


Electrical Equipment and Utility Housings

Red Imported Fire Ants frequently infest electrical equipment. They chew on insulation and can cause short circuits or interfere with switching mechanisms. Air conditioners, traffic signal boxes and other devices can be damaged. Red Imported Fire Ants also nest in covers over electrical and utility units. The Red Imported Fire Ants move soil into these structures, which causes shorting and other mechanical problems.

Compost Piles, Mulched Flower Beds, Pavement Cracks, etc.

Red Imported Fire Ants invade compost piles and mulched flower beds seeking warmth and moisture. They also nest under cracked pavement, removing dirt from underneath sidewalks and roadways and aggravating structural problems. Colonies in these sites may be difficult to locate and eradicate.


Around Bodies of Water

Red Imported Fire Ants require water to survive and are often found near creeks, drainage ditches, streams, rivers, ponds, lakes and other bodies of water. If surface water is unavailable, they tunnel down to the ground water table.


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