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The Fire Ant Relative That Is A Common House Pest In Massachusetts Can Be Dangerous To Humans, But Not Because They Inflict Stings

Ant species in the genus Solenopsis are prevalent throughout the world, and a couple of these species are among the most notorious of ant pests in the US. Unlike most ant species that are known pests of homes and buildings, Solenopsis ant pests are associated with potentially fatal envenomation incidents on residential properties. Solenopsis invicta and S. richteri are the two most well known ant pests of their kind, and in the US they are more commonly known as red-imported fire ants and black-imported fire ants, respectively. Luckily, neither one of these invasive and extremely hazardous ant pest species can be found in the northern half of the US, and they only pose a significant public health threat in the mid-south and southeastern states.

Three native fire ant pest species can also be found in the country, and while they are not as dangerous as their non-native relatives, each species is known for inflicting stings that trigger potentially fatal cases of anaphylaxis. The most common of these native fire ant pests is commonly known as the southern fire ant (S. xyloni), and their habitat is also restricted to the southern states. The only ant species that is considered a medically significant house pest in Massachusetts is the European fire ant (Myrica rubra), but their stings are not nearly as harmful as those inflicted by imported fire ants. However, Massachusetts is home to two Solenopsis ant species that frequently infest homes and buildings in the state.

Molesta is the most common of the two Solenopsis ant pest species in Massachusetts, and it is known as the thief ant. The other species, S. carolinensis, has not been given a common name despite being a Massachusetts native that often infests homes in the state. Thief ants frequently enter homes to seek out food sources, and it is not uncommon for workers to infest stored foods in kitchen cupboards and pantries. This makes thief ants medically significant insect pests, as numerous studies have found that thief ants carry several disease pathogens that they are likely to transfer to human foods. In fact, the US Food and Drug Administration includes the thief ant on its “dirty 22” list of insect pests that can spread foodborne pathogens. The insects on this list include the four primary cockroach pests in the US, 12 filth fly species, and only two ant species, the other being the Pharaoh ant (Monomorium pharaonis), which is also a common indoor pest in the northeast.

Have you ever found ants in your food, but decided to eat it anyway?