Red Ants vs. Fire Ants: What’s the difference?


ant pest control
Red imported fire ant

Nobody enjoys getting bitten by ants, especially not fire ants. Fire ants not only bite, they also sting, which is one of the key differences between fire ants and other ant species. Additionally, 2 to 3 percent of people are allergic to fire ants, which makes proper identification especially important.

Distinguishing a fire ant from other ants is tricky; not all fire ants are red and not all red ants are fire ants. Fire ants in the United States belong to one of two categories: imported and native. 

Imported fire ants are the most aggressive and include red and black imported fire ants. Both were both brought to the U.S. by accident in the early 20th century. While less hostile, native fire ant bites and stings hurt just as bad. Native fire ant species include southern fire ants, tropical fire ants, desert fire ants, and little fire ants.

Fire ants thrive in warm climates, especially Southern states. In fact, according to our 2022 national survey, 50% of homeowners in the South have experienced problems with fire ants. Unlike other ants, fire ants have two bumps between their thorax and abdomen. As mentioned above, fire ants don’t just bite, like other ants do. They sting as well. 

ant removal
Fire ant mound

Differences in behavior can also help to identify a fire ant. Fire ants are extremely aggressive and will swarm instantly if their mound is disturbed. Most other ants take longer to respond if they respond at all. Another distinguishable characteristic is that fire ant mounds do not have openings at the top like regular anthills and are usually located in moist areas, generally popping up after rain.

Deep diving into the distinctions: red ants vs. fire ants

It’s important to recognize the differences between red ants and fire ants. While they might appear similar at a glance, there are distinct characteristics that set these two species apart. 

Let’s explore the key differences that can help you distinguish between red ants and fire ants:

Size and appearance

  • Red ants — Red ants, often referred to as “red imported fire ants,” typically range in size from 1/16 to 1/5 inch (1.5 to 6 mm) in length. Red ants have a two-segmented body with a noticeable narrowing or “waist” between the thorax and abdomen.
  • Fire ants — Fire ants are similar in size to red ants, measuring between 1/16 to 1/4 inch (1.5 to 6 mm). Fire ants also have a two-segmented body but are often more aggressive in behavior.

Nesting behavior and appearance

  • Red ants — Red ant nests are less visible, with no significant mound. These ants tend to build their nests in soil, creating underground tunnels and chambers. Their nests are typically shallow and less conspicuous compared to fire ant mounds. Red ant colonies can be found in various outdoor locations, including lawns and gardens.
  • Fire ants — Fire ants are renowned for their large, conspicuous, cone-shaped mounds of loose soil. These mounds, constructed from soil particles, are a distinctive feature of their colonies and can reach heights of up to 18 inches (45 cm) and are. 


  • Red ants — While red ants can bite and sting, they are generally less aggressive compared to fire ants. However, their level of aggression may still vary depending on the specific ant species and circumstances.
  • Fire ants — These ants are known for their aggressive nature, especially when it comes to defending their colonies. Fire ants have a well-structured and organized social system within their nests. When they perceive a threat, they mobilize quickly to protect their queen, brood, and resources. They are highly territorial and will aggressively attack any intruder that comes too close to their nest. 


  • Red ants — Red ants are primarily found in the southeastern United States but have expanded their range to other parts of the country. They are also present in other regions of the world.
  • Fire ants — Fire ants are native to South America but have become invasive pests in the southern United States and other parts of the world. They are particularly well-established in the southern states.


  • Red ants — Red ants are omnivorous, feeding on a variety of insects, small animals, and plant matter. They are less likely to scavenge for food and are not as aggressive foragers as fire ants.
  • Fire ants — Fire ants are aggressive and opportunistic predators and scavengers. They will attack and kill small animals, including insects and even small vertebrates. They are known for their voracious appetites.

Antenna structure

  • Red ants — Red ants have 10 segmented antennae with a two-segmented club at the end. The club is usually larger and more noticeable.
  • Fire ants — Fire ants have 11 segmented antennae with a two-segmented club at the end. Their antennae are generally less conspicuous.

Color variation

  • Red ants — Red ants tend to have a more consistent reddish-brown coloration across the body. There is less variation in color between individual ants.
  • Fire ants — Fire ants can display more color variation within the colony. While they are generally reddish-brown to reddish-black, some individuals may have a darker coloration.

Sting sensation

  • Red ants — Red ant stings are painful but typically not as severe as those of fire ants. Their bites and stings often cause discomfort and itching. The pain from their stings is often described as sharp and burning, typically subsiding within a few hours to a day.
  • Fire ants — Unlike many other ant species that simply bite, fire ants deliver painful, burning stings. They grasp onto their target with their mandibles and then insert their stinger to inject venom. The venom contains alkaloids that cause intense pain and a burning sensation, hence the name “fire” ants. Fire ant stings can persist for several days and may result in painful, itchy, pus-filled blisters. Some individuals even experience severe allergic reactions when stung or bitten by a fire ant.

These differences should give you a more comprehensive understanding of red ants and fire ants. Remember that accurate identification is crucial for effective pest management and ensuring your safety in areas where these ants are present.

What to do if you have red ants or fire ants in your area

If you have a red ant or fire ant infestation, it’s essential to take prompt action to manage and eliminate these pests effectively. Here are the steps you should consider:

  • Identify the ant species — First, correctly determine whether you are dealing with red ants or fire ants. The mentioned distinctions above can help in identification.
  • Consult pest professionals — Contact a reputable pest control service like HomeTeam Pest Defense for a thorough inspection and treatment plan. Professionals have the expertise and tools to manage ant infestations effectively.
  • Avoid DIY solutions — While DIY ant control products are available, they may not be as effective as professional treatments. Avoid using over-the-counter remedies as these could only be temporary solutions to your pest problem.
  • Eliminate food sources — Keep your home clean and free of food crumbs. Seal food in airtight containers and clean up spills promptly. Ants are attracted to food sources, so removing them will discourage infestations.
  • Seal entry points — Identify and seal any cracks, gaps, or openings in your home’s structure where ants could enter. This helps prevent further infestations.
  • Follow professional recommendations — Pest control professionals will provide specific recommendations for your situation. Follow their guidance for the best results.
  • Conduct regular inspections for pests — Schedule routine pest inspections to catch and address ant infestations early, before they become severe.

When dealing with ant infestations, understanding the distinctions between red ants vs. fire ants is paramount for effective pest control. Whether you’re dealing with red ants or fire ants, calling a pest control professional is highly recommended to prevent an infestation as it requires dealing with their mounds and colonies, which can be dangerous.

Remember that red ants and fire ants can be a nuisance and a potential threat to your family and pets. Consulting professionals ensure a safer and more effective solution to your ant problem.

If you have any kind of ant problem and need a trustworthy pest control company, we can help. Request a quote or call 855-855-4873 and we’ll work with you to address your specific needs.

Be proactive and protect your home from pests

Imagine this: ants sneakily infiltrating the nooks and crannies of your home, or disease-carrying pests skulking in the shadows. The consequences can be dire. However, there’s no need to wait until it’s too late. 

Take action now to safeguard your home and the well-being of its occupants. Reach out to HomeTeam Pest Defense today for a thorough pest assessment and customized solutions. Don’t let pests overrun your place and mess with your peace of mind — act today and protect your haven from unwanted invaders!

Still want more information? Delve into our resources to learn about other summer pests, or check out our Facebook and YouTube pages, where you’ll find a treasure trove of pest control insights, tips, and success stories from satisfied customers.

Knowledge is power when it comes to pest control, so be proactive and stay informed about common pests like red ants and fire ants. Don’t hesitate to consult professionals for your peace of mind and the safety of your loved ones. Contact us today and let’s get started on managing your pest problem.

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