Science, Tech, Math › Animals & Nature What Are Fire Ants? Share Flipboard Email Print Naipinit Mathsree/EyeEm/Getty Images Animals & Nature Insects Ants. Bees, & Wasps Basics Behavior & Communication Beetles Butterflies & Moths Spiders Ticks & Mites True Bugs, Aphids, Cicadas, and Hoppers Amphibians Birds Habitat Profiles Mammals Reptiles Wildlife Conservation Marine Life Forestry Dinosaurs Evolution View More By Debbie Hadley Entomology Expert B.A., Political Science, Rutgers University Debbie Hadley is a science educator with 25 years of experience who has written on science topics for over a decade. our editorial process Debbie Hadley Updated April 14, 2017 When people talk about fire ants, they're often referring to a non-native species, the red imported fire ant, Solenopsis invicta. In the 1930s, red imported fire ants made their way to the U.S. from Argentina, via the port of Mobile, Alabama. Red imported fire ants will defend their nest aggressively, emerging en masse and stinging the offending perpetrator. Solenopsis invicta is now established throughout the southeastern states. Isolated populations also exist in California and the southwest. Entomologically speaking, fire ants are the common name given to about 20 species of ants belonging to the genus Solenopsis. Fire ants sting. Their toxic venom causes a burning sensation, hence the name fire ants. Entomologist Justin Schmidt, who studied and ranked the pain inflicted by various stinging insects, described the fire ant's sting as "like walking across a shag carpet & reaching for the light switch." In the U.S., we have four native species of fire ants: Solenopsis xyloni - southern fire antsSolenopsis aurea - desert fire antsSolenopsis amblychila - desert fire antsSolenopsis geminata - tropical fire ants Another exotic species, the black import fire ant (Solenopsis richteri) arrived in the U.S. around 1918. Red imported fire ants displaced their less aggressive cousin a few decades later. Black imported fire ants still exist in limited populations in parts of Texas, Alabama, and Mississippi. Sources Geographic distribution of fire ants, Xtension.org. Accessed online November 4, 2010.Red Imported Fire Ant in North Carolina, Department of Entomology, North Carolina State University. Accessed online November 4, 2010.Fire Ants in Tennessee, University of Tennessee Extension. Accessed online November 4, 2010.