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Fire Ant Control

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Some pests are annoying. Some pests are dangerous. Some pests are both. Enter the fire ant: one of the top 100 worst invasive pests of all time.

Fire ants are a different kind of beast, differing from other ants that you might find around the home. These ants aren’t native. They first arrived from Brazil by cargo ship into Mobile, Alabama and have been spreading like wildfire ever since.

If you’ve lived in the south for more than about five minutes, then you already know about how mean these little buggers are. People often say that fire ants “bite,” but the painful feeling you get from these ants is from their sting. It’s true that the ants also bite – they bite to hold themselves in place – but the bite is painless compared to what comes next. These aggressive ants pack a mighty punch with their venom-filled stingers. Enough of these stinging ants can kill an infant, the immobilized elderly, or people who are simply allergic to their venom. A couple dozen ants can kill a confined lizard in a couple of minutes.

Fortunately, fire ants are generally easy to spot. They create mounds that extend above ground about one to two feet. Like an iceberg, though, the majority of the nest is deep within the ground, up to 25 feet into the earth. These mounds are formed in open, sunny areas, like yards and fields. They prefer to stay warm, even throughout the night, and often nest near concrete which retains heat. They don’t like being shaded, and so are rarely found in woods or overgrown areas.

Controlling fire ants is an ongoing process and a long-term commitment. The winged swarmers can fly in from quite a distance away, and their reproductive rate is extremely high. Most people can tolerate some amount of fire ants, but the young, old, and allergic need to be very careful. In such cases, control is warranted. There are a few methods of suppressing fire ants.

Cultural control involves modifying the environment so that the ants can’t thrive. Consider replacing mulch with gravel, mowing at a higher height so the grass is taller, preventing bare patches from forming in the yard, and not overwatering. Remove food sources like garbage, manure, fallen fruits, and nuts. A popular do-it-yourself method of controlling these ants involves pouring boiling water into a mound, but it is a potentially dangerous activity. Three or more gallons of boiling water are needed to reach far enough into the subterranean tunnels to kill the queen. Unfortunately, many colonies have more than one queen, so the boiling water method may be difficult to sustain in the long run. It may help with a single mound, but use caution. Wear safety glasses and waterproof, heat-resistant gloves if you insist on trying this at home.

Granular baiting is the most effective way to control fire ants, especially when the right bait is being used. Baits that work on most ants will not work on fire ants. If you’ve tried baiting before with over-the-counter granules without much success, you may not have purchased a bait that was specific for fire ants. Baits should be fresh and free from contaminants. Old bait will not have the same attractiveness as new bait. Spraying pesticides or chemicals over the bait will repel ants instead of attract them, rendering your bait useless.

Like most ants, fire ants have taste-testers which sample all food before sharing it with the colony. If a food is associated with feelings of sickness or death, the food is not passed on. Baits work slow enough so that the ants can’t associate their failing health with the granules, and so they continue to feed and share this food among all members of the colony, including the queen (or queens).