Argentine Ants vs. Fire Ants: What’s the Difference?

Apr 25, 2024 | Ants

Argentine Ants vs. Fire Ants: What’s the Difference?

The beautiful weather found in Southern California attracts residents and tourists from all around the world. Unfortunately, people are not the only thing that our beautiful weather attracts. Our year-round mild weather means that ants are a constant problem.

Many different species of ants call the Coachella Valley home, but two main types of ants are found more frequently and are well known for two very different reasons. The Argentine ant is known for invading homes and is commonly called the sugar ant, while the fire ant is well-known for its painful sting and aggressive behavior.

But how can you tell the difference between these two species? Here we take a closer look.

Key takeaways

  • Argentine ants are a major nuisance. They love sweets, invade homes in huge numbers, and can carry harmful germs.
  • Fire ants pose a more serious threat. They have a painful sting, can cause allergic reactions, and their nests can damage homes.
  • Argentine ants are small and dark, while fire ants are larger and reddish. Fire ant mounds are also a tell-tale sign.
  • Keep your home clean and sealed to prevent both types of ants. This means storing food properly and fixing any leaks.
  • Baits and natural deterrents can help, but severe infestations may need professional help. This is especially true with fire ants, due to the risk of stings.

Understanding Argentine Ants and Fire Ants

Understanding the differences between Argentine ants and fire ants is crucial for effective ant control. Both ants are prevalent ant pests across the United States, attracting attention due to their distinctive behaviors and impacts on food sources.

Argentine ants, known for their vast colonies, often outcompete native species and dominate nest sites. In contrast, fire ants are infamous for their painful stings and aggressive nature. Their colonies are also robust but can cause significant damage to the environment and human health.

Fire ants, on the other hand, are versatile in their food preferences but are particularly attracted to protein-rich foods. This knowledge is pivotal when implementing ant control strategies. For instance, understanding their nest sites can lead to more targeted approaches.
Recognizing the distinct characteristics of these ant species aids in deploying more effective ant control solutions to mitigate their impacts on our lives and activities.

What are Argentine ants?

The Argentine ant, Linepithema humile, is an invasive species from South America and is considered one of the most troublesome ants when it comes to home invasion and infestation.

Often referred to as the “sugar ant,” the Argentine ant ventures inside homes during the hot, dry seasons looking for sources of water and sugary foods. Inside the home, these ants can often be seen in a large, noticeable line of hundreds to thousands of ants.

The Argentine ant does not bite or sting and is not considered a direct threat to humans, but these ants can carry bacteria and viruses throughout your home.

In addition, these ants feed off the sweet honeydew secretions from plant-feeding insects, such as aphids and mealybugs, and will help protect them, putting your plants and landscape at risk.

What are fire ants?

Southern California is home to two different fire ant species: the red imported fire ant (Solenopsis invicta) and the Southern fire ant (Solenopsis xyloni). Both species of ants are considered aggressive and the worker ants deliver a painful sting that causes the development of fluid-filled pustules. When the nest is disturbed, thousands of these fire ants will emerge and quickly attack anything or anyone in their path. They can be very dangerous for small children and pets. In addition, these ants can carry pathogens and viruses that can affect people.

In addition to delivering a painful sting, these ants can be very destructive, often building large nests or a supercolony underneath the pavement and home foundations. They will often venture inside searching for food and water.

How to differentiate Argentine ants and fire ants

Unfortunately, both of these different ant types can be difficult to eradicate once they establish a colony in or around your home. However, fire ants create an additional risk when it comes to eradication due to their aggressive behavior and risk of injury. Knowing which type of ant you are dealing with can make all the difference.

Physical appearance

Argentine ants are typically a dark brown to black color and shiny in appearance and are often referred to as black ants. They measure between 2-3 mm in length and, when crushed, emit a musty odor. In contrast, the fire ant is very red to reddish brown in color (though we do have a small variety that can be black in color) and measure around 6 mm in length.


Argentine ant populations typically build colonies that are located in damp areas near a food source. Ant colonies and nests are often found under rocks or yard debris, along sidewalks, underneath landscaping, and in potted plants. When traveling into your home, you can recognize Argentine ants by the noticeable trail of ants they will create.

Fire ants, in contrast, typically build their colonies in open, sunny areas with a lot of available space, as they can grow larger than 2-4 sq ft in size. Their nests are sensitive to vibrations, so they often look for areas with no traffic. When moving in or around the home, these ants can build colonies underneath your foundation or within the wood or masonry of your home. They also feed on everything, including the insulation around your wires, leading to shorts in the wiring.


The impact of Argentine ants and fire ants on homes can differ significantly due to their size and behaviors. Argentine ants, often invading in vast numbers, are known for their relentless colonization, which often sees them infiltrating walls and other structures. In contrast, fire ants, recognized as aggressive red ants, also pose a unique threat. These red ants create mounds that can damage lawns but their threat extends when they move indoors, navigating through walls and wreaking havoc within. The main concern with both types of ants is the potential for significant damage they can inflict over time.

Argentine ants are particularly problematic in urban settings, where their vast numbers allow them to spread rapidly, exacerbating the damage to walls and potentially to the integrity of homes. This extends to the wiring within walls, where ants of any size can cause surprising amounts of damage. Meanwhile, the sting of red ants not only poses health risks but also signals the need for urgent control measures to prevent further damage. Understanding these ants’ behavior, as discussed in previous sections about their identifying features and dietary preferences, is crucial for effective prevention and control strategies, which we will address in the forthcoming section on ant infestation solutions.


Exploring the behavioral traits of argentine ants and fire ants reveals fascinating insights into their social structures and survival strategies.

Argentine ants are known for forming large, monomorphic colonies, which typically overshadow the more polymorphic colonies of fire ants in size. This difference in colony structure affects each species’ behavior significantly. Argentine ants are highly cooperative, often merging with other argentine ant colonies to form supercolonies, demonstrating an unmatched level of cooperation among ants. In contrast, fire ant colonies are typically more aggressive, not only to other species but also to other fire ant colonies.

When it comes to their interaction with the environment, both types of ants demonstrate proactive behaviors. Argentine ants aggressively out-compete other ants and insects for food resources, a behavior that highlights their adaptability and vigor in various environments. Fire ants, on the other hand, are known for their painful stings, a defensive behavior that helps them protect their colonies from predators and human interference. The fire ant’s sting is an adaptation that’s particularly well-suited to deterring larger threats, making them formidable opponents despite their smaller colony sizes.

Understanding these behavioral traits helps us manage their impact more effectively, whether it’s in our homes or in agricultural settings. With the right approach, solutions for managing infestations of these persistent pests can be developed, tailored to their unique behaviors and environmental interactions.

Food Preferences

When it comes to food, Argentine ants and fire ants have distinct preferences that can deeply affect how they interact with our homes. Both species are drawn to food sources, yet their diets are not identical, shedding light on their different ways of living. Argentine ants are inclined towards sweets. This attraction often leads them into our homes, trailing along walls in a relentless search for sugary substances.

On the other hand, fire ants are omnivores, showing a marked preference for proteins and fats, which encourages them to establish colonies near food-rich environments. This dietary distinction places them at the pinnacle of adaptability in various habitats, impacting control strategies. The presence of food in one way or another lures these ants into residential areas, where they often become unwelcome guests.

Recognizing what specific food attracts each ant species is crucial in managing their invasion.

For Argentine ants, securing sweet foods can be an effective deterrent. In contrast, securing all food sources is necessary to keep fire ants at bay, owing to their diverse palate.

Effective Solutions for Fire Ant and Argentine Ant Infestations

Dealing with ant infestations can be challenging. Both fire ants and Argentine ants create extensive colonies that are not just a nuisance but can also cause significant damage to your property. Here, we share some techniques to effectively target these invasive ant pests.

DIY Strategies

The best way to tackle an ant problem is a multi-pronged approach. Start with these DIY methods that focus on both eliminating the ants you see and preventing new ones from entering:

  • Cleanliness is key: Eliminate food sources by keeping surfaces clean and storing food in airtight containers. Address moisture sources like leaky pipes and spills, as ants are drawn to water.
  • Block entry points: Seal cracks and gaps around your home’s foundation, windows, and doors to prevent ants from entering.
  • Baits: Ant baits are highly effective. Choose baits specifically formulated for Argentine or fire ants. Workers will carry the poisoned bait back to the colony, eventually eliminating it.
  • Natural deterrents: Try sprinkling diatomaceous earth, cinnamon, or coffee grounds to create barriers ants are reluctant to cross.

When to Call a Professional

If DIY methods fail or the infestation is extensive, it’s best to contact pest control. They have access to stronger insecticides and targeted treatments.

Experts in ant control have the necessary experience and tools to efficiently tackle these red pests. Whether you’re grappling with the relentless red fire ants or the expansive colonies of tawny crazy ants, a reliable professional from Arrest a Pest can offer effective infestation control solutions tailored to your specific situation.

Attempting DIY strategies might seem feasible, but without the right expertise, you might just be scratching the surface of a deeper problem. Argentine ants, for example, have multiple queens in their colonies, which can spread quickly if not addressed correctly. Fire ants, on the other hand, are notorious for their painful stings and can pose a serious health risk. In such cases, enlisting professional help becomes indispensable.

Control and Prevention

Eliminating an Argentine or fire ant infestation can be very difficult and is often best handled by professional ant control.

  • Sprays and baits can be effective temporarily by killing the ants you can see but are unlikely to provide a long-term solution.
  • Because both these ant species look for food and water sources, your best method of prevention is eliminating easy access to food and water.
  • Address any leaky water pipes and eliminate areas of standing water, such as birdbaths, pet bowls, and baby pools.
  • Keep garbage away from your home and in a sealed container. Do not leave pet food and water bowls outside.
  • These ants can squeeze through even the smallest of openings, so it is important to seal your home, especially around doors, windows, and cracks in the foundation.

Understanding which ant is marching into your space

Learning how to tell the difference between Argentine ants and fire ants is essential in order to avoid potential injury. While Argentine ants are more of a nuisance, fire ants can cause serious pain and, in the case of allergies, anaphylactic shock. Although DIY ant treatments are an option, they are often ineffective for the long-term management of these ant species, and professional ant and pest control is recommended.

Keeping your property ant-free

At Arrest a Pest, we understand the pest challenges in the Coachella Valley, including the Argentine and fire ant species. Our pest management programs work to eradicate current infestations while also helping to keep your home and yard ant-free.

To learn more about how we can help keep your home and yard safe, schedule an appointment today or call us at (760) 777-2763.

Adam Judnich

Adam Judnich

Owner @ Arrest A Pest

Serving the entire Coachella Valley

Arrest A Pest is your top-rated pest and bug control solution in the Coachella Valley! As a family-owned and operated business, our technicians grew up in the Coachella Valley and have a deep understanding of the pests in our area.

We understand that every pest infestation is an emergency, and we offer quick, safe, and thorough pest solutions and preventions for your home or business. No matter what pests are invading your space, our technicians are armed with state-of-the-art technology designed to rid your home or business of pests and help you stay pest-free long into the future.

Contact us today to schedule your FREE evaluation and let our team send the pests packing!

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