Fire ants (shown here) and harvester ants are two species of reddish-colored, soil-dwelling ants that sting. If you have reddish-looking ants going into an out of a mound of soil on your land, then chances are that you have either fire ants or harvester ants. (Harvester ants actually are more common than fire ants here in the Verde Valley.)
Both fire ants and harvester ants are capable of inflicting painful stings. In fact, the stings are the reason why fire ants are called fire ants. Fire ant stings burn like fire. In fact, they feel like someone built a fire under your skin, and it's burning its way to the surface.
Harvester ant stings aren't a lot of fun, either. In fact, on the Schmidt Pain Index (yes, there is such a thing), harvester ant stings rank even worse than fire ant stings. The entomologist who invented the Index, Justin O. Schmidt, describes harvester ant stings as "Bold and unrelenting. Somebody is using a drill to excavate your ingrown toenail." Harvester ant venom is also the most toxic in the insect world.
As if that weren't bad enough, it's pretty unusual to be stung by only one fire ant or harvester ant. Fire ants don't sting just for the fun of it. When they sting, they do so in self-defense. They feel that their nests are being threatened. So they come out in full force, with hundreds or thousands of ants attacking the perceived threat, with a singleness of purpose that would make a military commander proud. Fire ant and harvester ant extermination are definitely not do-it-yourself jobs.
Fire ants and harvester ants (shown here) both build nests in the soil, they both have painful stings, they both will attack as a group, and they both damage lawns and turf. More importantly to most folks, neither fire ants nor harvester ants are something you want to have in your back yard, golf course, schoolyard, campsite, or athletic field.
Beyond those similarities, fire ants and harvester ants really aren't very closely related, aside from both species being ants. They don't share a known common ancestor, they're not all that morphologically similar (except for being red in color), and they have different habits.
Harvester ants are bigger than fire ants at about a quarter of an inch, and all adult worker harvester ants are about that size. Adult fire ant workers can be as small as one-sixteenth of an inch, and the biggest fire ant workers are slightly less than a quarter inch in length.
Fire ants and harvester ants also eat different foods. Fire ants are omnivorous, feeding on plant materials, insects and other arthropods, carrion, and occasionally small mammals. Harvester ants mainly eat seeds, which they carry to and store in their nests (which is why they're called harvester ants).
Fire ants and harvester ants also build different kinds of nests, with the most noticeable differences being that harvester ant nests tend to be flatter, are devoid of living vegetation, tend to have empty seed shells strewn about, and usually have a single entrance hole. Fire ant nests are more dome-shaped, can become quite large, and have no visible entry or exist holes.
Both fire ants and harvester ants can be tricky (and dangerous) to control. They're definitely not do-it-yourself kinds of jobs. Proper identification, knowledge of their life cycles and biology, and specialized products and equipment are necessary for extermination of these aggressive ant species. We may use baits, granular products, or liquid insecticides to kill fire ants or harvester ants, depending on the size and maturity of the nest, the season, the weather (seriously), and many other factors.
For more information about High Desert Pest's fire ant and harvester ant extermination services, please contact us for a professional inspection, consultation, and treatment plan.