The fire ant is very aggressive and when bitten their reactions range from irritation to nausea and worse. They will attack both animals and humans if they feel threatened and often attack as a colony so it’s not always just one ant you’ll be fighting off. Besides causing a threat to humans and animals they also pose a threat to structures. The fire ant appears to be drawn to electrical currents.
When the fire ant nests in structures they go for the electrical boxes, air conditioners and telephone wires causing a lot of damage. They will often look for inside areas to winter and can be found near hot water heaters or under bathtubs if it sits on a slab. In the south they will locate their nest under houses, boards or inside stones and cracks in concrete. If you notice these feisty little red creatures setting up home near you, it’s time to get rid of them.
Hopefully you’ll see the fire ant before it sees you because if you accidentally step on their mound you are at risk for bites that will hurt for weeks. You will need to destroy or remove the nest; however, you don’t need to use toxic chemicals to accomplish this. A researcher for the USDA-ARS Center in Gainesville, FL says there are many non-toxic methods to use.
The Use of Buckets
One of the simplest methods to deal with one or two colonies is to rapidly dig the mound up and dump it into a large bucket. Begin with sprinkling baby powder or cornstarch on your shovel and in the bucket and then dig at least one foot under the mound. The powder will keep the ants from climbing out. Make sure you have tucked your pants legs into your socks before you reach the mound to ensure no stray ants can climb under your clothing.
Once you have placed the ants in the bucket you can drown them by squirting a generous amount of dish washing liquid in the bucket followed with water from a hose. Stir them all up to make sure the soap is dispensed throughout the mud. The soap will break the surface tension in the water and drown the ants a lot faster. If it is hot outside the ants will drown much quicker, cool days it can take several hours or overnight for them to drown. When you place the ants in the bucket make sure you have left enough room to add this soap mixture and make sure whatever tool you use to stir is long enough to keep your hand far enough away from the ants.
Pour Hot Water on Mound
Hot water poured onto the fire ant mound is quite effective and environmentally friendly. The water will have to be at a scalding temperature so you will need to exercise extreme care when handling. Apply about three to four gallons of the water directly into mound entrance. You may have to repeat the process three to four times to be completely sure they have all drowned. The hot water is also going to kill any grass or shrubs you have in the area.
Corn Grits and Rice
There is a theory that if you can get the fire ants to eat corn grits or rice they will die when the product expands in their system. This is an unproved and unlikely solution as the fire ant does not eat solid foods. The fire ant larvae will eat solid foods but digests them much like humans do by chewing and mixing with salvia. The adult fire ant workers only drink liquids and is unable to eat or digest a solid food product.
Mixing Two Colonies Together
This is another unproven and unlikely method of getting rid of fire ants. Some believe that if two colonies of fire ants are thrown together they will fight each other to the death. While it is true they are a territorial species and will fight if mixed; it’s unlikely that even one colony will be completely killed off.
Home Remedies for Getting Rid of Fire Ants
Most of the home remedies for getting rid of fire ants are ineffective as they do not kill the entire colony. To completely kill off a colony you have to destroy the egg-laying queen. A lot of the home remedies include; baking soda, club soda, molasses, plaster of Paris and vinegar and have been found to not be effective in killing colonies. Other home solutions include gasoline, diesel oil, drain cleaners, acids, chlorine bleach or ammonia but these products cause dangers to children, pets, livestock and their runoff can contaminate water. They are also illegal to use in many areas. The Extension Office in San Antonio Texas suggests a Two-Step Method that will remove the ants without environmental damage.
The Two-Step Method
- Spread fire ant bait once or twice a year.
- Treat any colonies or mounds that appear.
This is said to be the most cost-effective and environmentally safe method to preventing medium to large landscapes from getting infested with the fire ant. The fast acting bait products work quickly on foraging ants but may take longer if the mound has been built. The different baits can be:
These different baits work at different speeds for different situations so read the labels to make sure you are applying the bait that will be most effective for your situation. The ingredients will vary in how fast they can kill the ants and how long they will remain effective on an area.
To get the bait spread evenly and productively use a hand-held spreader or seeder. The spreader should be set at a very low rate so one to five pounds of the bait is spread per acre. If you are treating a large area use a vehicle mounted spreader and apply at the same rate.
Chemical Control of Fire Ants
Using insecticides to control your fire ant problems is regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency. You can only use certain products and must be administered as directed on label. In the case of the fire ant control; the label must specifically state it is intended for that purpose. You have to use extreme care when using these products especially if there is a vegetable garden or other food site in the area. Some products such as those used to treat electrical or utility boxes can only be done by professional pest control operators.
The fire ant probably tops everyone’s list as the worst insect pest and is definitely the one most wanted to be rid of. When choosing how to remove or destroy your colony use extreme caution and follow one of the above tips to ensure you are using an effective and legal method.