Fire Ants

fire antAg Biz News Column
Chad Gulley
County Extension Agent—Ag/NR
Smith County


Fire Ants

 The impact of red imported fire ants in the state of Texas is estimated to be $1.2 billion annually. Red imported fire ants are pests of urban, agricultural and wildlife areas and can pose a serious health threat to plants and animals.

With rainfall lately, fire ants may move from place to place in your lawn.  Mounds seem to ‘pop up’ overnight.   Fire ants need water to survive and most fire ants colonies live underground using an extensive network of underground tunnels to forage for food.  When we get rainfall in fall and spring months, above ground mounds start to form.  The ants build these individual above ground mounds from soil blocking some of their tunnels.  In these above ground mounds while the weather is optimal, fire ants brood development occurs.

Fire ants broods are sensitive to temperature and humidity.  Why do ant mounds disappear during hot, dry weather?  When we are in periods of dry weather, the ants move underground.  Some can go as deep as four feet deep to seek a more suitable environment for the ant colony during the hot, dry periods of the year.

Fire ants can’t be eliminated entirely because it is difficult to treat all areas that are infested.  The goal of integrated pest management programs is to suppress fire ants as much as possible with biological control methods and use insecticides only where it is economically and environmentally justifiable to do so.  There may not be one “best” method for fire ant control, especially in large areas. The objective should be to find the method or methods that are cost effective and environmentally sound.

Several approaches to fire ant control include broadcast baits, long residual contact insecticide treatments, and individual mound treatments.  So how do I win the war against fire ants?  Since fire ants travel from yard to yard, team up with your neighbors to implement fire ant control programs at the same time.   Decide what control method to use and whether to hire a professional or to treat the neighborhood using the help of volunteers from your neighborhood organization.

Be careful and only use insecticides when and where they are needed.   Read and follow all label directions. Today’s fire ant baits are gentle on the environment and are best applied using crank-type seeders or spreaders.

When deciding on products to use to control fire ants, be sure they are labeled for the site you intend to treat.  For example, fire ant baits for home gardens will be much different than those for home lawn areas.  Use caution when fire ants build nests near electrical outlets or units such as outside air conditioner units.  It is estimated that fire ants cause over $11.2 million annually in Texas to electrical equipment.  If you have problems with fire ants in electrical equipment, seek help from professionals to treat them safely and effectively.

Fire ants also invade compost piles and mulched flower beds seeking warmth and moisture. They also nest under cracked pavement, removing dirt from underneath sidewalks and roadways and aggravating structural problems. Colonies in these sites may be difficult to locate.

Extension programs serve people of all ages regardless of socioeconomic level, race, color, sex, religion, disability, or national origin.

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