Fire ants are one of the most annoying and dangerous pests that can disturb your life. They were accidentally introduced into the U.S. from South America during the early twentieth century and found in more than a dozen U.S. states and Puerto Rico.
Fire ants are highly territorial and well-known for their painful, venomous sting. They will aggressively attack any creature that disturbs their mound. They sting repeatedly and can cause a variety of health problems for people, pets, livestock, and wildlife.
Their strings can cause several reactions from irritation and pain to nausea. Some people can even experience more severe reactions, including blisters, problems breathing, and loss of consciousness.
There are different varieties of fire ants, and some species are so aggressive that they can invade your home and sting without reason. They are very good at getting inside a property through cracks in the foundation or open doors and windows.
They do not stay in one place for long, and their colonies can spread quickly throughout your yard and move into your home.
Fire attacks usually attack in swarms, so if you see them around your property or suspect there is an infestation nearby, make it a priority to get rid of them quickly. Removing them can be tricky, but it can be done if you use the right pest treatment for the job.
In this blog post, we take a comprehensive look at fire ants and what you can do to remove them if an infestation occurs.
What are fire ants?
Fire ants prefer to various species of stinging ants you can find in the U.S. They are named after their stinging bite and red color, though you can find varieties that are dark brown or black.
Two of the main species accidentally imported into the country and caused problems include:
This ant is originally a native of South America. Researchers have identified that Solenopsis Invicta has formed colonies in at least 13 southern states of the U.S. These ants are a little less than half an inch long and reddish-brown. The species is commonly known as the red fire ant.
They build colonies in dirt mounds that can be as big as 20 inches wide. The mounds are built in soft soil and usually found in croplands and farms. When they invade a home, you will find these mounds hidden in the grass, lawns, garden beds, and driveways. They can also be found in other areas with ready access to food like parks and recreational grounds.
The red fire ants eat both animals and a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, and leaves. They also attack other types of ants to steal and eat their larvae and food stocks.
These ants have a sac of deadly venom they inject into their prey with every bite. The toxin can damage and stun the target’s nerves allowing them to kill it more easily. Working together, the ants can bring down much larger animals, like a slow-moving box-turtle. They usually prey on the eggs and nests of other creatures that live underground.
This species is also a native of South America who somehow penetrated regions of the U.S. Solenopsis Richteri is more commonly known as the black fire ant. This variety is less common in the U.S. and only found in a few states along the Gulf Coast and southeast. Researchers have discovered their colonies in Texas, Mississippi, and Alabama.
Black fire ants build colonies inside mounds, similar to red fire ants. Their colonies are usually much larger than the mounds of red fire ants, often spanning several feet of the area above the ground. Individual ants are identical to their red cousins in size and shape. The only difference is that they are dark brown or black in color instead of reddish-brown.
This species is just as aggressive as red ants in attacking creatures that come into proximity to their mound. When an intruder is nearby, these ants gather in large groups and attack, biting the creature. They continue to attack until their victim leaves the area. Stings are a common symptom of black ant presence among gardeners, children playing in a park, and pets. Most people will get bitten on their feet and legs after stepping on a mound.
Most other species of insects can only sting once, leaving their venom sac empty or the stinger damaged. However, ants can sting a creature multiple times relentlessly. A single ant can cling on to a target and sting numerous times when attempting to defend the mound.
Red ant life cycle
Fire ants are a highly socialized species of insects. They generally live in colonies with three distinct types of adults, also known as castes.
Queens are female ants that are larger than other ants. They lay eggs, and a single queen can lay hundreds of eggs every day. Some colonies have one queen only, while more significant colonies can have many.
Males mate with the queens and do not participate in any other activity. Males are typically the same size as other ants and have wings.
Workers are sterile, wingless ants without reproductive abilities. They make up the bulk of any colony and build the colony, foraging for food, caring for the young, and defending the nest.
The winged males and females usually leave the mound during the spring or autumn and mate in the air. Females fertilized, shed their wings, burrow into the ground, and lay eggs to start a new colony. The eggs hatch roughly after a month into “maggot-like” larvae. The queen cares for these larvae until they develop into pupae approximately one to two months later.
The pupae grow into adult “worker” ants about three weeks later and collect food for themselves, the queen, and future generations of larvae. By the end of the fall season, several small colonies can appear in an area. Depending on the availability of food, weather severity, and competition with other creatures, only a few colonies survive to the following spring.
Identification of fire ants
During the mating season, a colony sends out many males and females in swarms. Only a small percentage of these make it through the mating season to start a new colony. Most ants are eaten by predators, such as birds or dragonflies. Many die out from lack of food or water.
If you notice swarming ants around your home, try to identify their species right away. If fire ants settle in or around your home, they can build a colony underground and multiply within months. Once they reach a high level of infestation, it can become more complicated and expensive to get rid of them later.
Any presence of winged ants indicates that they are trying to grow their population. If it belongs to fire ants, they can bring a lot of problems for you later.
Remedies for fire ant control
You can use a variety of natural and artificial methods to get rid of fire ants on your property. Let’s look at each type of approach.
Natural methods of fire ant control
Natural methods involve getting rid of fire ants without any chemicals or pesticides. People with pets or a flourishing garden are often concerned about using insecticides to get rid of fire ants because the chemicals may harm their plants or pets.
You can pour boiling or soapy water over the mound. It is a practical, low-cost home remedy that will usually get rid of most ants. However, it may not kill the queen, and the ants can repopulate after a few months. Often the colony will relocate and move to another area.
Cayenne pepper can be a natural cure for fire ants. Mix two to four sliced cayenne peppers with boiling water and let it sit for 24 hours. Pour this mixture outside the perimeter of the mound to keep any ants from escaping. Then, pour it inside the fire ant mound. This will permanently make the anthill unlivable for the ants.
Vinegar and baking soda
Mix an equal volume of vinegar, baking soda and water in a bucket and pour it into the anthill. The strong smell of vinegar and baking soda will repel the ants away. Note this solution may not kill the ants, but it will drive them away to relocate.
Based on research from the University of Florida Extension, organic diatomaceous earth (DE) can eliminate individual ants that come into contact with it. Pour it in dry form around the perimeter of your home and any other place where you see the fire ants. The DE is not an instant solution and will take about a week to work, but it is effective in killing most fire ants. The method can be used if you are facing a home invasion by the pests but cannot find their exact colony location.
Commercial fire ant killers
Most commercial grade fire ant killers are based on chemical granules that effectively kill fire ants that come into contact with the chemical. Here are practical solutions that deliver excellent results quickly.
Garden insect killer and water
Mix 2 oz of a garden insect killer chemical like Spinosad per gallon of water, and apply it to individual mounds as a drench. Use some of the prepared solution around the mound’s perimeter. Pour the remaining liquid directly over the mound.
Apply it slowly, like a gentle rain — without disturbing the colony. For best results, use the treatment during the early morning or evening when the weather is cold and pleasant.
You can also use Abamectin, aka Avermectin, a naturally occurring soil fungus to eliminate fire ants. This fungus is safe for and around homes and will get rid of even the most problematic colony of fire ants. The Abamectin baits come in a packaged granular form.
High acute toxicity destroys the ants’ nervous system and lethal to developing larvae. It is excellent for preventing queen egg production of new ants. Use these packets at 10 grams per square yard.
Methoprene and pyriproxyfen
Methoprene and Pyriproxyfen are insect growth regulators that prevent the development of insects from one stage to the next. They are used as baits to be ingested by ant larvae and pupae, inhibiting their growth into the next step.
Hydramethylnon Pyriproxyfenis often used in ant baits and packaged as liquids, gels, or crystal granules. The chemical has low toxicity to humans and doesn’t get absorbed through the skin. It is toxic to developing fetus and severely interferes with the queen ant’s reproductive system. Pour packets of this bait inside or close to the anthill and allow it to work for a week.
Botanical insecticides are considered least harmful because they rarely affect other plants and creatures close to the fire ant colony. They are derived from plants, and some contain liquid pyrethrin. These natural pesticides have fewer harmful side effects than synthetic chemicals and naturally disintegrate into the environment. Mix them into the water and drench the mound and surrounding area with them for the best results.
The process of killing red ants
The most effective method of killing fire ants is to use the two-step process; baiting and mound drench. Although you can use either step on its own and still succeed, a two-step process has a much higher success ratio for eliminating the infestation. Most professional exterminators use a combination of the two methods for removing fire ant colonies.
Red ant bait application
The first step of ant elimination involves using toxic bait to kill the queen and other larvae deep inside the colony. If you only use insecticides to drench the anthill and perimeter, it will get rid of the worker ants, but they will reproduce and come back after a few weeks.
So, the bait is used in the first stage and placed close to the ants’ feeding grounds. The ants pick up the toxic food and take it inside the colony, feeding it to the queen and larvae. The bait affects the queen’s ability to reproduce and also stops the growth of the young ants into later stages. Over a few days, the bait kills the queen, and the colony stops growing.
For best results, only apply the baits for fire ants on dry ground on a dry day. Water can mix with the bait and dilute its effectiveness.
Broadcast bait application
A broadcast spreader can be handy for applying granular fire ant bait to the infested area. It allows you to cover a full area without using your hands.
After application of the bait, leave the colony undisturbed for at least 2 – 3 days. This allows foraging ants plenty of time to take the bait inside the nest and spread it to the queen and larval ants.
It is ideal to apply the fire ant bait around the mound close enough to the colony but not directly upon the mound.
Only use the amount recommended on the bait’s product label. Do not pour more than instructions.
Drenching the mound
The second step involves using insecticides for the targeted killing of ants in and around the colony. Specified chemicals are mixed with water, and the solution is used to drench the anthill and surrounding perimeter. This step is essential for getting rid of the ants quicker and preventing any chance of bites.
The drenching solutions come in two varieties: liquid and granular forms. The mixing method for each type is outlined below.
Liquid drench method
- Mix one gallon of fire ant insecticide solution into the hand sprayer, based on the product label.
- Spray the insecticide around the mound in a perimeter circle of 6 to 10 feet in diameter to kill any foragers left over. Allow time for the application to dry.
- Mix another 1 to 2 gallons of insecticide in a bigger, 5-gallon bucket.
- Use a dowel or broom handle to poke a hole through the top of the mound. Be wearing gloves to protect your hands.
- Slowly pour the solution from the bucket into the hole in the mound. Move away from the treated area quickly as ants are likely to flow out of the mound.
Granules drench method
- Apply the granular insecticide roughly three feet out in a circle around the mound, according to the product instructions.
- Pour the recommended amount of granules at the top of the mound based on the product label.
- Get a bucket and pour water on and around the mound to let the granules soak according to the product label.
For both steps of the process, it is best to treat fire ant infestations in colder weather, such as during early morning or late evening, when the ants are actively foraging for food.