Despite the relatively cold climate in Massachusetts, numerous hardy ant species have no problem thriving in the state. This is especially true for fire ants, as they have been documented as surviving within freezing conditions. Although fire ants can survive outdoor temperatures as low as 16 degrees fahrenheit, they still won’t hesitate to enter Massachusetts homes during the winter. In fact, fire ants often seek refuge from the summer heat by invading homes and buildings in the state. Finding shelter of this sort is not difficult for the ants in many cases, as they tend to dwell within residential lawns. Unfortunately, managing fire ant infestations within homes is difficult due to the massive size of fire ant colonies.
There exists 280 fire ant species in the world, many of which have established an invasive presence in the US. The most talked about fire ant species is the red-imported fire ant, as this species has proven to be the most economically and environmentally devastating fire ant species in the US. While this species is not found in Massachusetts, another fire ant species, the European fire ant, was documented as inhabiting the state way back in 1908. Despite this species’ long presence within Massachusetts, it was only recognized as a serious pest to homes during 2010 when massive amounts of the ants began to spread rapidly on residential properties in Cambridge.
European fire ants gravitate toward cool and moist areas near homes, mostly beneath decks and within gardens where they are known for damaging a variety of ornamental plants and irrigation systems as well as electrical devices. A Harvard entomologist, Gary Alpert, described European fire ants as being like a “cancer” on residential neighborhoods where they often start new colonies on each and every property. These ants also attack people by first biting their skin before injecting their stingers to inject venom into the bloodstream. These stings cause tremendous pain that usually lasts for days. Painful bumps often develop at the site of the sting, and it is not uncommon for sting victims in Massachusetts to become hospitalized as a result. European fire ants are particularly dangerous to children and pets.
Have you ever discovered fire ants on your property?