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Fire ants have spread throughout much of south and eastern parts of North Carolina and mounds have been found in counties further west where the ants have been introduced accidentally in landscaping and soil placed around new residential and commercial developments.
Fire ant mounds vary in size, usually in direct proportion to the size of the colony. For example, a mound that is 2 feet in diameter and 18 inches high may contain about 100,000 workers, several hundred winged adults, and one queen. The mounds are usually located in exposed areas, often near trees (as shown here). You may accidentally step on a nest or grab fire ants during cleanup activities in the yard. In areas of severe flooding, fire ants may even form a "ball" or "raft" and float in the water until they find 'dry land', such as a tree limb or some object. These ants can pose problems during rescue efforts and other activities in flooded areas.
When disturbed, fire ants can deliver painful stings. Within 24 hours after a person is stung, a pustule-like sore usually forms at each sting site, which then usually itches intensively. Scratching the pustule may rupture the skin, leading to secondary infection and scarring. Just as with bee and wasp stings, a small proportion of people are highly allergic to fire ant stings and require medical attention after a stinging incident.
Fire ants are particularly fond of greasy-oily foods. While they typically an outdoor problem, disturbances during/after severe weather may bring them indoors in search of food or even "dry land" and thus into closer contact with people.
Here are some suggestions to follow if fire ants are common in your area: