Fire ants that build their nests at the bases of fig trees are commonly considered pests. Gardeners who see these ants often worry that their trees are at risk, but this isn't always the case. Fire ants can be a blessing to adult fig trees that require extra air and defense from other predators.
A fig tree is a well-known fruit bearing tree. These trees are native to western Asia and can grow to a height of 30 feet when in the proper living conditions, such as full sun and a warm climate. They produce tiny flowers that bloom in clusters, and the number of seeds produced with every fruit can vary anywhere from 30 to 1,600 seeds, depending on the species.
The fig tree's fruit and resources commonly fall prey to a number of pests, including fire ants. Fire ants build colonies around the base of the tree, using the roots for protection from weather and predators, and attacking them for resources, such as sap. The ants often damage the surface of the tree, making it more susceptible to attack from diseases and other pests.
Younger fig trees may experience damage to the roots from fire ants. Fire ants may expose the roots by tunneling around them, leaving them vulnerable to drying out. Ants also may attack the roots to steal nutrients from the tree. Both of these conditions can cause a tree to wither and eventually die.
Fire ants don't just harm fig trees---they provide protection from other pests and creatures that may attack the tree for food or reproduction purposes. As fire ants tunnel around the roots of older, established trees, they provide both aeration and room for the tree to expand, much like earthworms or other subterranean insects.
Gardeners who are looking to remove fire ants due to potential threats to both humans and pets often turn to insecticides. Common insecticides that have proven effective at killing the fire ants without harming the fig tree are available in hardware or gardening stores. Most of these are chemical-based toxins, so gardeners should follow all the manufacturer's instructions when applying the chemicals to trees.