Effective fire ant control is possible without using toxic baits and sprays. Here’s how:
Description: Accidentally introduced from South America in the early 1900′s, imported fire ants are currently found in 13 southern states and Puerto Rico. They are well-known for their venomous sting and will aggressively attack anything that disturbs their mound. Fire ants can sting repeatedly and cause medical and agricultural problems to people, pets, livestock and wildlife. They will also wreak havoc on local ecosystems. Studies show that populations of ground nesting animals (song birds, snakes, rodents, toads and lizards) are reduced by more than half shortly after their arrival.
Imported fire ants (1/8 – 1/4 inch long) are reddish brown to black in color and look very much like ordinary ants. They are social insects and build mounds of loose soil, resembling gopher diggings, rarely larger than 18 inches in diameter. Mounds are often numerous and can quickly spread over an entire yard. Each mound may contain up to 300,000 ants.
Note: Fire ants are attracted to electricity and have been known to damage air conditioners, heat pumps, transformers and more.
Life Cycle: All ants are social insects and live in colonies with three distinct types of adults, called castes. Queens are larger than other ants and are responsible for egg laying. Some colonies have only one queen, whereas others have many. Males are responsible for mating with the queens; they do not participate in any other activities. Workers are sterile wingless females. They make up the bulk of the colony and are responsible for building and defending the nest, caring for the young, and foraging for food.
During the spring and summer, winged males and females leave the mound and mate in the air. Fertilized females (queens) shed their wings, burrow into the ground, and lay eggs to begin a new colony. After about 30 days, the eggs hatch into “maggot-like” larvae. These are cared for by the queen until they pupate approximately 1-2 months later. Within three weeks, the pupae transform into adult “worker” ants, which begin collecting food for themselves, the queen, and for future generations of larvae. In the late fall, numerous small colonies appear, many of which will not survive the winter unless the weather is mild.
Fire Ant Control: Currently the best proven approach to effectively get rid of fire ants naturally involves treating areas around the mounds with an insecticidal bait (Ascend) and then treating individual, problem mounds with a liquid soil drench of spinosad or pyrethrin.
Note: Baits are attractive to fire ant workers who take it back to the mound, and feed it to the entire colony including the queen. They lead to the decline and eventual elimination of the entire ant colony. Extremely large mounds may require a repeat application. Apply when ants are active (usually when temperatures are greater than 60°F). The best time to apply is in the cooler morning and late evening when foraging is at its peak.