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Are all red ants fire ants?

Are all red ants fire ants?

Let’s learn more about ants!


When I was a child, adults used to tell me not to touch any red ants because they were fire ants. I carried this warning with me up until college when I took my first entomology class and learned about ants. The punchline: not all red ants are fire ants!

So, what is a fire ant?

Fire ants aren’t the fiery red color you may have imagined. In fact, most are actually pretty dark in color—almost black! In the sunlight, you can typically see a deep reddish tint to their abdomens. Fire ants are very small and tend to stay near their colony, which is typically found in grassy areas. Fire ant colonies look like large piles of dirt randomly scattered around the yard. When disturbed, fire ants will grab onto your skin with their mandibles and simultaneously sting you. That’s right—a two for one punch of biting and stinging! Fire ant stings typically form small, itchy pustules that may persist for a few days. A small percentage of the population is allergic to ant venom, so be mindful of any signs of breathing trouble if stung. 

Then what are the large yellow/red ants I periodically see on the porch, deck, or side of the house?

These ants are probably citronella/moisture ants. Citronella ants are occasional home invaders via open doors or windows but are unlikely to establish. These ants nest in moist places, like within or under a rotting log or under a rock. Many citronella ants engage in an interesting behavior called aphid farming. Aphids are common plant pests that produce a sugary substance called honeydew. Honeydew is the preferred food source for citronella ants. To ensure they always have a source of honeydew, the citronella ants will actually herd the aphids and offer them protection from predators in exchange for honeydew. Ants can be seen “grooming” aphids to stimulate honeydew production. 

If you are frequently finding citronella ants in your home, you probably have rotting wood nearby. These ants are usually just occasional invaders, but large numbers or frequent sightings may indicate a serious moisture problem.  Give us a call and we will search for any wet wood from leaking pipes or moisture problems within your home or crawlspace. We at Innovative Pest Solutions are well trained in ant identification and management. Don’t hesitate to reach out to us for any insect questions or concerns.