Fire ants are famous for their burning stings and aggressive nature, and most animals try to avoid them at all costs. However, fire ants have a number of natural predators that will actively seek them out as food.
What animal eats fire ants?
There are very few natural fire ant predators in North America but, elsewhere, there are a variety of mammals, birds, bugs and reptiles that eat these stinging insects.
Armadillos are apparently impervious to fire ant stings and will dig into their mounds to feast on the developing eggs. Given their ability to decimate colonies, armadillos may seem like the ideal choice for biological fire ant control.
However, people have pointed out that if they could effectively reduce the fire ant population they would already have done so. Furthermore, armadillos are unlikely to completely eliminate an ant colony, as they often don’t eat the queen.
Antlions are insects from the family Myrmeliontidae. As their name suggests, antlions prey on a wide variety of ant species, and are also known to eat fire ants.
There are 16 species of spiders that are known to eat fire ants. These include the southern black widow spider (Latrodectus mactans) and the wolf spider (Lycosa timuga).
Purple martins (Progne subis), which are founds across the southern USA, feed primarily on mating queen and male imported red fire ants. They are thought to eat billions of red fire ant queens across the USA every year, and could help to curb the spread of this invasive species.
Anteaters are famous for their ant-based diet, which includes fire ants. They can swallow up to 35,000 ants per day but, as they are not native to North America, anteaters are little help in controlling fire ant populations in the USA.
Phorid flies (AKA humpback flies) are parasitic flies that target several ant species, including fire ants. The phorid fly lays its eggs in the thorax of the fly and, when they hatch, the larvae migrate into the head of the insect.
Here they feed on muscle and nerve tissue until they have devoured the ant’s brain, turning them into ‘zombie ants’ that stagger around aimlessly for a few weeks. Eventually, the larvae release an enzyme that causes the ant’s head to fall off, which they continue to use as shelter during their pupation stage.
Do chickens eat fire ants?
Chickens can and will eat fire ants, but they may get stung in the process. Fire ant venom can be dangerous for young chicks and smaller birds, so most chicken owners choose to get rid of fire ants that make their nests near coops.
Can you eat fire ants?
Technically, fire ants are edible, though it is generally better to avoid eating creatures with a lot of venom. If you do eat fire ants, you should take care to remove the stingers and cook them first.
There are a number of animals that eat fire ants, including anteaters, armadillos, various spider species, birds, antlions and phorid flies.