Don’t let fire ants ruin your year, fight back!

By Luke B. Harlow Agriculture & Natural Resources Agent University of Florida/IFAS
Posted 11/7/18

For decades the red imported fire ant (Solenopsis invicta) has been a major pain (pun intended!) in home lawns, landscapes, playgrounds, parks, pastures and croplands. They have an economic impact …

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Don’t let fire ants ruin your year, fight back!

Posted

For decades the red imported fire ant (Solenopsis invicta) has been a major pain (pun intended!) in home lawns, landscapes, playgrounds, parks, pastures and croplands. They have an economic impact too. I have seen fire ants damage electric systems such as junction boxes and air conditioners and make people yelp when bitten. At one point, my three-year-old daughter was afraid to go outside because she thought the mean ants were going to attack her.

Not all ants are created equal and properly identifying them is the first step in determining how and when they should be managed. Management methods differ because treatments that affect one species of ant may or may not affect another species. As many of you probably know, fire ants are especially persistent. This means controlling them, which often will require repeated treatments.

Research shows us that one of the most effective methods to control fire ants is by using ant baits. Ants foraging for food pick up these baits and bring them back to the colony. These baits work in different ways, but all have the same end goal which is to kill the queen thereby stopping colony reproduction. Contact treatments or management strategies, such as flooding the ant mound with water or kicking and destroying the ant mound only displaces and reduces ant populations but will not control them effectively.

Baits can be used for individual mound or broadcast applications, but the best way to eradicate these painful pests is by using both approaches at different times of the year. In the spring or fall, broadcast a bait product over the entire area affected by fire ants. Then wait several days and treat individual mounds with a granule, dust, or drench-style ant control product.

Controlling fire ants is both art and science. Here are some tips for you to practice both the science and art. Be proactive – the best time to apply fire ant bait will be in the fall and/or spring. This will help reduce the number of active mounds as they start building in the spring. Active mounds are generally reduced in numbers during the colder months and applying the bait right before the cold months helps reduce the mounds even further.

‘Home remedy’ options can be used, but they will provide limited control. Products like diatomaceous earth, boric acid or even grits may kill some ants on contact, but rarely eliminate the colony. Also, trying to flood the ant mounds out is not effective as the colony will just relocate. Using gasoline or fire to control an ant colony is both dangerous and can be harmful to the environment and is not recommended.

When choosing a product for fire ant bait, read the label and make sure you can apply the product in your situation. Several products can only be applied to residential lawns and may not be labelled for application on grazing pastures or around vegetable crops.

The instructions for most baits recommend broadcasting the bait around the base of the mound, not on top of the mound. Research shows that if applied on the top of the mound, the ants will not take it into the mound. Broadcast around the base of the mound in a two to three-foot radius for greater control.

This painful insect can be troublesome to get rid of, but not impossible. It will take the proper approach and most likely will not be controlled in one shot, but it is possible to enjoy time outdoors without fear of painful bites.

If you have any questions on which control method is best suited for your situation, or would like more information on controlling fire ants, please contact me at the UF/IFAS Clay County Extension office at (904) 284-6355.

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