Arrival of the Fire Ant
The Red Imported Fire Ant, was introduced into Mobile, Alabama in the mid 1930's from South American cargo ships. A fire ant colony was in the ships soil used as ballast. Either fire ants were on the cargo being unloaded or some were discharged into the water with the ballast soil. Since then, the fire ant has invaded most of the Southeast and is slowly expanding west and north. Fire ants live in colonies called mounds.
Life Cycle - The Nuptial Flight
It all begins with the "Nuptial" flight. Winged male fire ants take to the sky and form large masses. The winged females then fly into the swarm and mating occurs. Shortly thereafter, the males die and the fertile new "Queens" begin their search for the perfect nest area. Once found, she discards her now useless wings and begins to make a tunnel. She then lays about a dozen eggs, which hatch in 7 to 10 days. She will feed and care for them for another week, at which time they begin the task of building the mound and care for the queen. She will continue to produce more eggs. Once the cycle has progressed, the queen can lay between 800 to 1000 eggs per day. The established mound really begins to grow rapidly from this point.
The Perfect Home
Dirt and sand taken from building the tunnels are deposited into a mound, sometimes reaching several feet in height. The mound can have hundreds of tunnel openings spreading over a very large area and even have tunnels leading down to the water table. This is why fire ant mounds are so difficult to destroy. A mature colony can have 100,000 to 500,000 fire ants with many queens.
After a rainy period, the workers prepare new openings for the winged breeder males, who will then fly out to form another mass. The females follow and another nuptial flight occurs. These new queens begin their journey and new colonies are formed.
Nuptial flights usually occur in spring and fall, just after a rainy period. The queen fire ant can live more than 7 years.
The mild southern winter has little effect on the colony. When it gets too cold, they simply move deeper within their nest. (Pg 1 2)