Fire Ants

Controlling fire ants around home and yard
By Tim Daly

Anyone who has come into contact with fire ants knows they can inflict painful stings. Sometimes a person can step in a fire ant nest and not even be aware of it until the ants start stinging.

Fire ants also build unsightly nests in lawns, and they will aggressively defend their mounds if disturbed. Also, they can forage for food inside homes and other structures. Despite of the problems they cause, fire ant infestations can be managed and their harmful effects minimized. 

Native to South America, fire ants were accidentally introduced to the United States through Mobile, AL back in the 1930s. Over time, they have spread throughout the southeast and are continuing to move north and west. They have easily become established because our climate is similar to the one in their place of origin. 

Unfortunately, no silver bullet exists to control fire ants. The goal of any treatment is to eliminate them where the risk to people is high and to reduce infestations to minimal levels. Killing the queen is crucial since she is the only one capable of reproducing, and without her the whole colony will perish. 

There are basically three strategies when using chemical pesticides. The first one involves broadcasting a bait, which is an insecticide mixed with a food source that attracts the ants, over the area where they are a problem. Worker ants carry the bait into their mounds and feed it to the queen and other ants, causing them to die. This process may take a week or more. 

The second strategy is treating the individual mounds with an insecticidal drench, which consists of an insecticide diluted in water. The chemicals are quite effective in controlling the ants if it penetrates deeply into the mound. 

The third strategy is to do a broadcast application of a granular insecticide labeled for the control of fire ants, over the entire area where you want control. These products take a few days to a week to work, but they can potentially control the fire ants for up to a year if applied properly. The application of the granules can help prevent new infestations in the treated area. Remember please follow all label directions and safety precautions when using pesticides. 

As an alternative to pesticides, pour boiling water on the fire ant mounds. The ideal time to do so is on a sunny, cool day when they are close to the surface. Most of them are usually killed, although sometimes retreatment is necessary. Research has shown grits and other home-made remedies are ineffective. 

If the fire ants are coming indoors, remove open food sources and seal up any holes or cracks around doors, windows or on the foundation. Locate the fire ant mounds that are outside and treat them with insecticides. 

Fire ants, despite their aggressive nature, can be controlled by using appropriate measures. This will reduce the chances of people suffering from their painful stings.

Timothy Daly, is an Agricultural and Natural Resource Extension Agent with Gwinnett County. He can be contacted at 678-377-4010 or tdaly@uga.edu

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