With their bright red bodies and venomous sting, fire ants are nobody’s idea of a good time. Like their distant cousins, wasps, these ants are capable of delivering a painful burning sting to people who cross them. It’s this sting that gives the species its name, and makes it one of the most feared pests around.
But it’s not just the sting that makes people want to get rid of this species. They also have the annoying habit of building large mounds of soil on top of the colonies, which they dig out of the ground. These mounds can be three feet in diameter and over a foot in height, so you’ll definitely notice them. And nothing ruins your immaculate lawn like a cluster of fire ant colonies.
But getting rid of these creatures can be tricky. The colonies can be huge, with up to half a million individual ants living together in one nest. Also, they propagate by swarming, meaning that reproductive ants take to the air and fly off to create new nests. So even if you solve the ant problem on your property, there’s no guarantee that a new queen won’t someday drop in and start the problem all over again.
For this reason, fire ants are big business. There are lots of products on the market designed to deal with them. These products include bait, insecticide granules, liquid sprays, dusts, and broadcast treatments. Here’s an overview of the different methods available.
If you’re looking to solve your ant problem with the minimum of risk to other beneficial insects in your garden, bait is the way to go. What’s great about bait is that the ants do most of the work for you. Once foraging workers find the bait, they will carry it back to the nest and feed it to both the larvae and the queen.
What the ants don’t know is that these baits contain a slow-acting poison. Gradually, ants that have consumed the bait will start to die. And if the bait reaches the queen and the larvae, the whole nest is doomed. Ants rely on the larvae of the colony to digest their food for them, so a nest without larvae and without a queen to produce new larvae cannot survive.
As far as fire ants are concerned, bait comes in several forms. There are liquid baits, granule baits, and solid baits inside bait stations. When treating an ant nest outdoors, weatherproof granules are a good option, since you won’t have to re-bait every time it rains. And you don’t need to worry about nontarget animals such as birds consuming these granules, because the active ingredient, though deadly to ants, is harmless to other species.
If the ants are foraging inside your house, liquid baits are often the best option. Foraging workers can’t eat solid food, so liquid is always very attractive to them.
When baiting for ants, be patient. The poison is designed to work slowly so that it gets spread throughout the whole nest before the ants start to die. Also, remember that you need foraging workers to carry the bait back to the colony, so don’t kill every ant you see. If they are using the bait, let them do their thing.
Just to confuse matters, granules aren’t always bait. Many contact insecticides also come in the form of granules. These can be spread on and around fire ant mounds, and any ants that come into contact with the granules will be poisoned. Some granules work by releasing gas when they get wet, so this type will need to be watered thoroughly after application. Others are designed to work when dry. In either case, this is one of the less labor-intensive ways to treat a fire ant nest.
There also plenty of sprays available for fire ants. Often, these sprays can be used in two ways. You can treat any nests you find directly, but you can also use the spray to create a barrier around your home and stop foraging workers from coming inside. This makes liquid sprays one of the most popular options for fire ant treatment.
When treating a nest, remember that these ants can dig several feet into the ground. Make sure to thoroughly drench the nest in the pesticide to ensure that all the ants are reached. The main goal of spraying a nest is to reach the queen and the larvae, since the rest of the ants can’t survive without them. But to do this, you will need the pesticide to penetrate deep into the soil.
Insecticide dust can also be useful against fire ants. Like liquid sprays, it can be applied directly to the nest or used around the home as a barrier. Ants that come into contact with the dust will carry it on their bodies as they returned to the colony and pass it on to other ants. Because of this, insecticide deaths can be a very effective form of treatment.
But remember that many of these dusts become ineffective when they get wet. You’ll want to apply them on dry days with no rain in the forecast. Alternatively, some dusts are waterproof, so it might be worth looking for one of these.
For long-term prevention and control, especially on a larger property, a broadcast treatment is the way to go. These treatments may involve liquid insecticides or dust, but they most commonly use granules. The idea is to spread the granules across a wide area, to not only kill existing nests but to prevent new ones from forming. These applications require the use of a broadcast spreader. If your property is especially large, you may even want to use an ATV or other vehicle to cover the ground more quickly. It’s a time-consuming treatment that will use a lot of expensive pest control products. But if it eliminates these nasty stinging bugs and lets you enjoy your property in the summer once again, it’s time well spent.
Other Ant Types?
Concerned about other ant types? Check out my other article on the 5 worst ants to watch out for: https://medium.com/@crosfieldd/the-5-types-of-ant-to-watch-out-for-this-summer-9a7a8feb16c8