What are European fire ants?
European fire ants (also known as European red ants, Myrmica rubra) are very small red ants. The workers are about 3/16 inch long, and the queens are a little larger. These ants are only distantly related to the "true" fire ants (Solenopsis species) found in the southern U.S. and Latin America.Why are they a problem?
European fire ants are a nuisance pest for people and a potential threat to the environment. They aggressively defend their territory and readily sting humans, pets, and livestock that have the misfortune to move slowly or rest within the ants' large foraging areas.
The severity of reaction to the European fire ant sting varies from one person to another, and with the location of the sting. Usually a sting results in an inflamed red area from one to four inches in diameter, sometimes with a raised white area in the center. Where this insect has established nests, homeowners have reported that they are unable to use their yards and gardens because of repeated stings by the ants.
As European fire ants move into new places in North America, they may threaten native species of ants. Many other insects could become displaced also.
Where are European fire ants in Maine?
The European fire ant has become established in many communities along the Maine coast. Populations have been confirmed in Cumberland, Hancock, Kennebec, Knox, Waldo, Washington and York counties. Population densities and the number of infestation sites have increased considerably over the past decade. Since this ant is native to cold regions of Europe and Asia, it is unlikely that climate alone would prevent its spread into other areas of the state.
Where do European fire ants live?
European fire ants live in decaying logs or soil, under rocks and human debris, and even in thick clumps of grass or under leaves. In Maine, this ant appears to take advantage of multiple habitats, including lawns, old fields, scrub/shrub and deciduous forests. The ants do not nest in houses and do not make large mounds.How do European fire ants move to new places?
Since European fire ants develop their colonies in soil and similar materials, they can be moved in potted plants and mulch from nurseries, and in soil moved to or from building sites. At least one colony of European fire ants was moved from a coastal Maine nursery to a
landscape located 20 miles inland.
Also, in a process called "colony budding," a group of ants takes a queen and moves away from their original colony to establish a new nest in a nearby site. In this way, infestations spread outward over time.How can European fire ants be managed?
Many people currently rely on insecticides to curb this pest. Since populations seem to resurge after such treatment, this strategy appears to provide only short-term control. We are currently researching the efficacy of a number of "least toxic" strategies for these ants, including insect growth regulators, boric acid baits, and biological controls.
Contact the University of Maine Cooperative Extension's Pest Management Office for ant control tactics (telephone 207-581-3880; online at www.extension.umaine.edu/topics/pest.htm
What should I do if I suspect I have European fire ants in my yard?
If you suspect you have European fire ants in your yard, please submit them for identification. Identifying European fire ants before their colonies spread is critical to avoiding a serious problem. Use the panel at the right to submit a sample for identification.
To send an ant for identification, wrap it in a tissue and place in a small vial with a tight lid. Send it, along with the information below, to Dr. Eleanor Groden, The University of Maine, 5722 Deering Hall, Room 306, Orono, ME 04469-5722. INCLUDE THE FOLLOWING INFORMATION WITH YOUR SAMPLE:
Date of collection; Date ants first noticed; Street address/city/state of nest; Description of habitat of the nest site; your name and mailing address; your phone number; your e-mail address.
<I>This column was excerpted with permission from University of Maine Cooperative Extension publication #2550, "European Fire Ant," developed by Eleanor Groden, Francis Drummond, and Lois Berg Stack. For more information or the full text of this fact sheet, visit UMaine Extension online at extension.umaine.edu.
For more than 90 years, University of Maine Cooperative Extension has supported UMaine's land-grant public education role by conducting community-driven, research-based programs in every Maine county.</I>