The Myrica rubra ant species, or the “European fire ant,” as the species is more commonly known, originated from Europe, making this species an aptly named pest within the northeast United States where it has long maintained an invasive habitat. Like its red-imported fire ant relative, the European fire ant does not often invade homes, but they do invade residential yards where they can cause damage to lawns and gardens. However, in many infestation cases, residents are not aware of the ant’s presence within their yard until the ants inflict extremely painful stings, which can be medically significant. Although the European fire ant has long maintained an invasive habitat in some northeast states, infestation cases were not widely reported until the latter half of the 20th century. In Maine, fire ant infestations and medically hazardous stings did not become a widespread problem until the late 1990s.
The European fire ant’s presence in North America was not known until the species was discovered in Massachusetts in 1908. During the late 1960s and 1970s, reports about mysterious ant stings increased in Maine, but it was not until 1986 that the species causing all these complaints and ER visits was revealed to be the European fire ant. The University of Maine Cooperative Extension Office reports that European fire ant complaints and descriptions of medical complications following the ant’s stings became particularly prevalent beginning in 1998. Every year since then has seen a greater number of such complaints, which is not surprising considering the species’ rapid spread to new areas in the state during the past two decades. Starting in 2001, entomologist at the University of Maine have gone to great lengths to track the European fire ant’s spread across Maine. European fire ant populations are most concentrated in coastal areas of the state, but they have established populations in more inland regions as well. The ants are quite abundant on Mount Desert Island, and the last cooperative extension bulletin stated that the ants pose a public health threat within Cumberland, Hancock, Kennebec, Knox, Waldo, Washington, and York counties. However, this bulletin was released several years ago, and as of 2014, well after the bulletin was released, European fire ant attacks have been reported across the state. Therefore, it would be wise for residents in all areas of Maine to be on the lookout for these ants and their nesting mounds, as numerous cases of anaphylactic shock in response to fire ant stings have been reported in all areas of the state. The ants are known for arriving in new locations by hitching rides within infested plants and plant-matter. If a resident should notice any signs of Euroepan fire ants on their property, then a pest control professional should be contacted promptly.
Have you ever sustained stings from European fire ants?