For people who enjoy the warm months outdoors, few things are as frustrating as the presence of fire ants in the yard. After all, it’s your yard and not being able to let your pets out or have the kids play in the back yard without being stung can be maddening.
The pests first arrived in Mobile, Ala., unnoticed on a shipment from South America in the 1930s. Since then fire ants have been infesting hundreds of millions of acres of land, causing billions of dollars in damage. They have become such a massive, persistent problem that famed ecologist E.O. Wilson labeled them “the Vietnam of entomology."
Several traits of fire ants make them a significant enough problem to justify the metaphor. Fire ants lack natural enemies in the United States, allowing them to spread with ease across the country. They have infested virtually the entire southern United States including, Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Mexico, North Carolina, South Carolina, Southern California, Tennessee, and Texas. There is no indication that they will stop spreading.
Once fire ants infest an area, they cause damage in a number of ways. They displace native ant species and harm wildlife. Their colonies damage farm and electrical equipment and can cause entire sections of roads to cave in. Often they migrate indoors. Known for their painful sting, fire ant bites usually result in a painful pustule. However, they have been known to kill young livestock and pets, and their venom can cause an allergic reaction in humans, resulting in 10 to 20 deaths annually.
* Fire Ant Treatment Options
For homeowners, the most practical and effective method to control fire ant infestations remains a broadcast granular insecticide applied with a fertilizer spreader and watered in after application. Granular treatments such as fipronil provide season-long control with only one application, since fire ants pick up the active ingredient — undetected — on their bodies, carry it back to the mound, and distribute it to other colony members through grooming, feeding, and general contact.
“For areas where complete control of fire ants is a priority, fipronil is one of the better weapons we have in the arsenal,” says Bart Drees, Texas fire ant project director at Texas A&M University.
Baiting is another method, ideal for large areas, such as pastures, that have little human traffic. Baits must be applied to mounds as they appear so you typically will treat for fire ants six to 12 times each year. The efficacy of baits can be damaged by high temperatures, high humidity, and intense sunlight so they must be kept in a dark and cool location.
Another option for treating fire ants is drenching, which requires diluting an insecticide with water and allow it to drip into the ground. It is most effective in temperatures between 70 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit, and because fire ants tend to burrow deep underground in the hot summer months, drenching works best during late spring or early fall, depending on the temperature.
* Treating with a Neighborhood Control Program
When an area is treated for fire ants, not all of the ants in a colony die. Some inevitably leave the treated area in search of a new environment. As a result, if your neighbor treats their property for fire ants and you do not, a number of new mounds will appear in your yard. Developing a neighborhood fire ant treatment program enlarges the treated area and reduces possible sources of infestation for participating homeowners. Experts say the most effective programs continue for years, as a lapse in treatment in an invitation for fire ants to return. - ARA