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GIANTmicrobes Red Ants in Petri Dish
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The Red imported fire ant (Solenopsis invicta), or simply RIFA, is one of over 280 species in the widespread genus Solenopsis. Although the red imported fire ant is native to South America, it has become a pest in the southern United States, Australia, Taiwan, Philippines, and the southern Chinese province of Guangdong. There are also reports of ant hills in Macau, the former Portuguese enclave that borders the province of Guangdong. RIFA are known to have a strong, painful, and persistent irritating sting. In the 1930s, colonies were accidentally introduced into the United States through the seaport of Mobile, Alabama. Cargo ships from Brazil docking at Mobile unloaded goods infested with the ants. They have since spread from Alabama to almost every state of the American South, from Texas to Maryland. Since the 1990s, infestations have been reported in California in the West and New Mexico in the Southwest, but probably via ship or truck (not overland) in the case of California. The bodies of fire ants, like all insects' bodies, are broken up into three sections: the head, the thorax, and the abdomen, with three pairs of legs and a pair of antennae. Fire ants can be distinguished from other ants by their copper brown head and body with a darker abdomen.

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