Ants have been around for 100 million years. They are a very successful species and play an important role in the environment. Ants turn and aerate soil and disperse seeds. As an essential part of the food web, they eat a variety of plants, seeds, other insects and decayed animal matter – and are food for many other creatures, including birds, amphibians and even bears.
In Florida we often encounter non-native red fire ants, and usually want these ants out of our yards and gardens. But we can also find native ants that serve a beneficial purpose.
If you notice a single small mound shaped like a volcano, it is likely the home of native pyramid ants. These small mounds, usually built in sandy soils, have a single entrance hole in the center. The ants can be seen moving quickly around the mound, foraging for food on top of the soil. They eat live insects, including winged fire ants. Pyramid ants are not aggressive and are natural predators that can help slow the spread of the invasive fire ants.
Large dirt mounds likely indicate the presence of non-native red imported fire ants. These ants prefer to nest in open, sunny areas but also nest under logs, around trees, under pavement or even inside electrical equipment! When their mounds are disturbed, the ants swarm out to attack any intruder, human or animal. They both sting and bite, but it is the sting that is painful.
Fire ants live in colonies with 80,000 – 240,000 workers all feeding the queen and larvae; some colonies even have multiple queens. Workers forage for dead animals including insects, earthworms, and vertebrates. They can also come into homes looking for sweets, proteins and fats.
Many home remedies have been developed to try to rid properties of the fire ants without poisons. Your county extension office can offer information about dealing with fire ants while reducing potential harm to beneficial native ants.
Ants have the most complicated social organization on earth next to humans. – E.O. Wilson