Are There Fire Ants in California?

Fire ants are among the most feared bugs in the world. They are relentless and have a powerful sting that many are allergic to (including me!). They are widespread in warm climates. Are there Fire Ants in California?

Yes, there are fire ants throughout much of Southern and coastal California, including LA county, San Diego, and even though the San Joaquin valley. There’s even an ant called the California Fire Ant.

In this article, I’ll take a closer look at fire ants in Cali.

Are There Fire Ants in California?

Yes, fire ants are spread throughout California, particularly southern California along the coast. Northern and Eastern California is much less habitable for fire ants.

Here is a map of fire ant habitation in California, put together by the California Dept. of Agriculture:

Fire Ant Spread: California Dept of Agriculture

RIFA (Red Imported Fire Ants) often inhabit soil, and their colonies or mounds can grow to a height of 50 centimeters (18 inches). Water is necessary for RIFA to survive; thus, colonies are likely seen there.

Colony locations include:

  • Decaying logs
  • The underside of sidewalks and pavement
  • The vicinity of buildings
  • The base of stumps and trees

RIFA will also infest utility housings and electrical equipment. Colonies often move from one location to another. Between 100,000 and 500,000 workers and several hundred winged reproducers live in a colony. 

A queen ant may live for several years, compared to the sterile worker’s lifespan of roughly five weeks. Since many queens may live in one colony, six workers are all a queen needs to establish a new colony.

Origin of Red-Imported Fire Ants

A century ago, two kinds of imported fire ants were mistakenly introduced into the port of Mobile, Alabama, from South America. Around 1918, the imported black fire ant arrived, followed by the red fire ant in the late 1930s.

Both species most likely arrived in soil used in cargo ships as ballast.

They travel to new, uninfested areas either naturally as colonies develop or by hitchhiking on farm products like bales of hay. They’ve made it all the way up the coast to Massachusetts, out to the middle of the US in Colorado, and of course, are very much a pest species in Florida.

Characteristics of Red-Imported Fire Ants

The length of a California fire ant is between 1/8 and 1/4 inches, with queens being slightly longer than 1/4 inches. The abdomen, or gaster, is black, and the head and thorax range in color from yellowish-red to brown.

Additionally, these factors will enable you to identify the ants, confirm an infestation and take precautions.

  1. These ants are reddish-brown to black in appearance and 1/8″ to 1/4″ in length
  2. Ants that, when disturbed, react quickly and violently
  3. They grip their prey with their strong jaws and sting them while administering excruciating poison
  4. Burning pain and itchy blisters that may develop into infections result from the stings. Although rare, severe cases of stings can result in shock or even death
  5. Large, hard, mound-shaped nests can pose risks to farm machinery and field employees

How Lethal Are RIFA Stings?

RIFA, notorious for its aggressive nature, can impact outdoor activities and harm animals. They are defensive and willing to sting to protect their colony. Thousands of workers will swarm out in defense if a mound is disrupted. There may be hundreds of stings as a result. 

The burning and itching sensations associated with stings disappear after around 60 minutes. In about four hours, a tiny blister develops, and a white pustule does as well in a day or two. A systemic allergic reaction to the sting may happen if a person is hypersensitive to the stings.

Many symptoms, such as skin flushing, generalized hives, swelling of the eyes, and face, chest pains, nausea, and excessive perspiration, might show hypersensitivity. People who exhibit these symptoms need to get emergency medical help without delay.

The native fire ant of the southwest is not as bad of a nuisance as the RIFA. The southwest fire ant is less aggressive and has a milder sting. When the two ants come into touch, the RIFA will outcompete and supplant the native southwestern fire ant.

How to Treat Red Imported Fire Ants Stings

Scrub RIFA stings vigorously with soap and water to avoid future infection. Applying a cold compress may also assist in lessening pain and swelling.

Topical steroid creams available over-the-counter and oral antihistamines can help with itching. If you or your patient have more serious systemic symptoms from stings, you should see a doctor. Fire ant stings can kill those who are allergic, but with treatment, there should be no major concerns.

Where Do Red Imported Fire Ants Live?

California fire ants build their nests outdoors in wood, dirt, and masonry, at the bases of trees and shrubs, and in patches of grass.

They can enter indoor spaces through HVAC units, electrical sources, outlets, and pipes. Due to that, these ants may also establish nests in breaker panels, electrical junctions, and water boxes. 

What Do Red Imported Fire Ants Eat?

Fire ants consume nearly anything, including insects, pests, plant matter, and dead animals. Besides, they also consume electrical and phone lines after locating the insulation on the wires. They will attack defenseless humans, including the young and elderly, without warning and cause harm.

Fire ants consume nearly anything, including insects, pests, plant matter, and dead animals.

How to Prevent Red-Imported Fire Ants

To prevent the spread of fire ants, observe the following measures:

  1. Everyone, including children, must learn about fire ants and their inherent danger. In situations where there may be a danger of getting stung, people who are allergic to fire ant stings should wear protective gear. Do not chain or cage pets close to RIFA colonies, as they will be impacted regularly.
  2. Maintaining a tidy home is the greatest approach to keeping red imported fire ants under control. Maintain a clean kitchen since ants hunt for food supplies constantly.
  3. Identify and fill any openings in the exterior of your property where these biting ants can get in. While caulking will aid in preventing access, it is not a guarantee. 

Fire ants can come into a new region during landscaping and adding new soils. Be wary that a fire ant colony could lurk in a fresh fertilizer shipment as an unwelcome surprise. To avoid such incidents, ensure the plant nursery has undergone a thorough RIFA infestation inspection. 

Additionally, use over-the-counter ant bait insecticide to find and remove fire ant colonies close to the house. Ask the local agricultural commissioner’s office or a pest control business for expert help if the infestation is severe. Also, call the state-wide RIFA hotline number to get in touch with regional county pest control organizations.

Final Thoughts

There are fire ants throughout much of Southern and central California, the climate is almost ideal for fire ant propagation.

Even though fire ants do eat pests such as ticks, their troubles in cities outweigh whatever advantages they may offer.

While it might be challenging to eradicate fire ants, controlling them is necessary. The best control strategies include combining effective least chemical and non-chemical techniques.