Image of the Day: March of the Fire Ants

They rode into Mobile, Ala., aboard a cargo ship from South America in1929, and since then fire ants have spread to become a painful reality in much of the Southeast. By some estimates 20 million people suffer from their agonizing bites each year. 

Fire ants love hot weather and moderate rainfall, and in order to flourish they also need warm winters with few days below freezing. As the planet warms, the area where they can thrive is spreading. From 1921-1950, conditions were ideal for infestation in only nine states, but for the most recent period, 1981-2010, the number has expanded to 15 states, including parts of California and Oregon. A much bigger area, stretching into Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky and even into parts of Maryland, Delaware and New Jersey — plus parts of Arizona and New Mexico in the West — has had conditions favorable to fire ants during at least 25 of the past 30 years. That’s still not enough for them to become well established. But as the climate warms in coming years, these marginal states could become prime fire ant habitat — with very uncomfortable results.

Credit: Alex Wild