Think you have those painful red imported fire ants in your yard? Looking for information on how to get rid of ants in your garden or yard, then read on.
Many homeowners think of ants as something bad and must be eliminated. The truth is, for some wildlife, ants serve as a food source and as predators, these red ants feed on other insects. In the ecosystem of the outdoor landscape, the tiny ant plays a very important role.
The best way to identify fire ants is by the painful stings that feel like fire. But to avoid that, if you see a train of brown and red ants in your house or on your lawn, you may have a fire ant infestation.
Solenopsis Invicta is the scientific name for Red Imported Fire Ants. They mostly live in the southern, western, and southwestern parts of the United States and thrive in hot and dry climates.
Fire ants can vary in size from 1/8″ – 1/4″ inch. They live in colonies with a distinctive structure of a queen, worker ants, and migrate rapidly.
Importance of Ants in The Landscape
Most of us have seen the tunneling abilities of ant colonies. This tunneling allows water and nutrients to move through the soil to the roots, provide air-reducing soil compaction.
Worker ants are farmers and even help some potted plants germinate their seeds. A garden without ants would not function well if at all. Most ants provide benefits to a lawn and garden… but not all!
Identification First Step in Fire Ant Control
The first step in fire ant treatment and its spread is learning to identify them from the native species of ants.
5 Characteristics of the Red Imported Fire Ants
- Medium-sized Red Ant
- Darker Abdomen
- Heads not wider than abdomen
- Colonies build large a fire ant mound or hill
- Ants Swarm and Attack at Slightest Disturbance of their Habitat
It is important when looking at how to kill fire ants, the native ant species are not targeted or killed as well. Do not spread blanket applications of pesticides over your lawn to control or kill all ants… even the natives ant species.
This can make your lawn much more susceptible to new infestations. Competition is a good thing, when a colony of imported fire ants has no competition, they spread rapidly.
How Do I Identify Fire Ant Mounds?
Be cautious. Fire ants are among the most aggressive species of ants in the world and will attack if disturbed. The first thing to do is observe the mound without meddling with it.
The individual mounds fire ants build are different. There is no entry to the nest through the mound. They use tunnels to reach the nests, often several feet below the ground.
Beware, a mound is not the only indicator of a fire ant infestation. The mound is not an indicator of an active colony because it is not crucial for the fire ant’s survival; this makes it very difficult to kill them.
Individual Mound Treatments: How Do I Get Rid Of A Fire Ant Mound?
Invasive Species Ant Control
Three of the most common and most effective ways to eliminate and treat individual mounds for fire ants. Different methods and approaches work for every individual.
These remedies work best during cooler seasons. Otherwise, start your fire ant control in the early morning or the late evenings when the ants are foraging.
- Ant baits are a favorite. Apply commercial baits or granules designed for imported fire ant control. I’ve used “Amdro Fire Strike” with very good success. Homemade borax mixtures have also been used on active mounds.
When applying ant baits and granules, use a criss-cross pattern to apply the granular insecticides designed for controlling fire ants. These slowly poison the entire colony, so the worker ants and the queen deep inside will die.
Make sure the applications are made on top, around, and near the mound or hill. Ants love to farm and they will often bring the bait back to the queen, and over a few weeks, the queen will be killed.
I like to stir the mound up to make sure it is fire ants and not a native species. Always read the label before making any application.
Avoid broadcast treatments. This will help get rid of residual or leftover ants and eradicate the infestation.
- Hot, scalding water instantly kills a fire ant… it can also give you a good burn, so try this with caution. To this hot water, add some soap and pour over each mound, but beware, you will probably need to repeat the steps several times before the colony has been eliminated.
A twist on the hot, soapy scalding water is to dig the mound up (only during cold weather) and dump a shovel full of the ant hill or mound into the bucket – ants and all. You may not get them all but this can weaken the colony.
- During the cold weather, dig up a mound and throw the shovelful of mound, ants and all about 50′ feet away from the current ant nest. Ants slow down during the cold weather and exposure to elements alone will most likely kill them as they struggle back to the colony.
What If Fire Ants Are In My House?
Fire ants tend to stay outside but could seek food indoors. Here, ant baits also work best along with a liquid insecticide spray.
Once you notice a train of ants, spot its areas of activity, and then set up baits around it. Ensure that the baits are not set up along the path as the ants will avoid them then.
The trick is to set the bait close enough to the activity area to lure the ants to. Then they can carry the poisonous food back to the colony, infecting all the ants.
Sprays are a great supplement to the baits you set up. Non-repellent sprays work best as they keep the ants from detecting it.
The non-repellent sprays won’t kill the ants on contact, but they will walk through it and carry the poison back to the colony.
What Are Some Effective Ant Control Products?
Local gardening stores provide an ample selection of fire ant repellent insecticides.
Some fast-acting ant bait products are:
- Advion Fire
- Maxforce Bait
- Surrender Fire Ant Bait
Extinguish Plus is a good fire ant bait and also comes in a 2 -step kit. There are also liquid insecticides that treat individual mounds.
Personally, when I encounter an active fire ant colony I’ll first apply Diatomaceous earth to the area.
For more read: How To Apply Diatomaceous Earth On Ants
I’ve also had effective fire ant control using liquid drenches of Neem oil on and around individual mounds and the surrounding soil.
While looking for baits and insecticidal sprays, read the product label directions to make sure the product is right for fire ants. And always follow package directions.
Red Imported Fire Ant Facts – A Global Traveler
The United States and other areas in South America are home to some native species of fire ants, but the imported red fire ant (Solenopsis invicta) a South American native is considered by many to be an exotic invasive pest which has spread around the world. These global travelers found themselves as passengers on plant material and other cargo destined for other countries.
Those who study these workers generally believe that red fire ants first entered the United States in the 1930’s in the south. Today, the imported Southern fire ant can be found in Texas, Florida and across the lower third of the US.
Fire ants attack with a painful sting, they also outcompete native ant species and can even force the natives out of their local territory. This disrupts the food supply for some of wildlife which may frequent your landscape.
These little “big bite” fire ants can cause havoc on young animals as they can swarm and kill ground birds such as quail, young rabbits and even deer can be at risk. They can also put some nice welts on both children and adults.
Ant Control Methods to Avoid
Over the years gardeners and old tales have circulated. Some still believe that pouring grains like rice or grits on an ant hill will kill the colony, because as the ants ingest the grains they will expand in the ants stomach and it will die.
Keep the grits and rice in the kitchen!
Stay away from chemicals. Never pour chemicals such as bleach, ammonia, gasoline, kerosene, diesel or other types of chemicals onto fire ant hills.
The liquids are dangerous to people, wildlife and the environment – they pollute the soil and seep into the ground water on top of that these liquids are illegal to dispose of or dump in this manner.
Red Fire Ant Stings, Party, Swarm and Communicate
Ants are like their cousins the bee and wasp, which sting and inject their stinging venom that brings on pain. When ants bite they release a pheromone (sort of like a whistle) communicating to the other ants it is time to party!
It is time to swarm and attack! For small animals, the stings mounting into the hundreds or thousands can be fatal. For humans, the stings from fire ants are painful but generally not fatal.