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Fighting Fire Ants

By Allyson Shabel, Regional Extension Agent, Lauderdale County

FireAntFire ants are at the top of the list of bugs we love to hate. Their bites can be quite painful to people, livestock, and pets. They are capable of damaging lawn equipment, invading buildings and patios, and damaging electrical wiring systems. Overall, they cost the United States $6 billion annually, which includes treatment and prevention costs. 

With the advent of spring, fire ants wake up and begin a new year of reproduction and colony expansion. As the colony matures, their trademark mounds grow upward. In peak production, the queen will lay up to 1,000 eggs per day. The workers spend the warm summer days foraging for foods, and are known for their aggressive behavior. So how can we deal with a fire ant infestation?

How to Get Rid of Fire Ants
Alabama Cooperative Extension System (ACES) specialists recommend a two-step method to deter fire ants from invading your property. The first step is to look for a product that is called broadcast bait. A bait product consists of a chemical dissolved into a food source. These baits are spread evenly over the entire infested area. Ants will pick up the bait and take it back to the nest, where they eventually find their way to the queen. The colony will be destroyed once the queen is killed. 

For a bait to work it must be applied when the soil temp is above 60 degrees. This is when the ants begin to forage.  It must also stay dry for 12 hours after the bait is applied, so check the forecast before using these products. Make sure the bait has a clean nutty smell. Fire ant products do not have an expiration date, but old or rancid products will not work. By broadcasting a bait product once or twice per year, you can reduce the fire ant population by about 80%. Broadcasting bait around the perimeter of vegetable gardens or raised beds will help reduce infestations in gardens with edible crops.

The second preventive step is to use individual mound treatments as needed throughout the summer. These products come in the form of dusts, drenches, baits, or granules, and should always be applied according to label directions. Mounds should be treated mid-day in cold months and early in the morning during summer months. Over applying mound treatment products, however, can result in the colony relocating to another area on the property. If using a drench product, it is recommended to mix up two gallons of chemical to apply to the mound. The selection of products you can safely use in vegetable gardens is very limited.

Where to go for Help
Fire ants can be a nuisance for the whole family, but with a little work they are easily kept away. For a complete listing of treatment costs and products available in stores, download the ACES fact sheet 2017 Fire Ant Control Materials for Alabama Homeowners, A/ANR-0175-A at http://www.aces.edu/pubs/docs/A/ANR-0175-A/ANR-0175-A.pdf or visit https://articles.extension.org/fire+ants for more information.

You can also contact your county Alabama Cooperative Extension System office (blue pages of the phone book) for more information.

Photo: Fire ant queen, worker, and male by S. E. Thorpe, Wiki-Public domain at https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Solenopsis.jpg