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Fire Ants and their Control

Fire Ant Species


Photo courtesy of the Queensland, Australia Department of Primary IndustriesThere are several species of fire ants in the United States, but four species account for the great bulk of harm inflicted by these dangerous ants:

Fire ants are small (averaging about 1/8 of an inch, although there is some variation in size) and reddish in overall appearance, with dark markings on the abdomen. All four species are quite similar in appearance, behavior, and control, making it difficult even for entomologists to tell them apart.

Fire Ant Nests

Photo courtesy of the Queensland, Australia Department of Primary IndustriesFire Ants build mounds in the soil that range from less than a foot to several feet in diameter, and from a few inches to more than a foot in height.

The underground portion of the nest may extend several feet below the surface. The main purpose of fire ant mounds seems to be temperature regulation. Layers of decaying organic matter in the mound enable the nest to be maintained at a higher temperature than the ambient environment.

Fire ants may also build soil nests above the surface. They seem particularly fond of nesting in electrical boxes, air conditioning housings, abandoned cars, generator housings, and other protected, man-made voids.

Fire Ants and Health

Photo courtesy of Texas A&M UniversityFire ants are important and dangerous pests, especially in the South.

Fire ants feed voraciously on plants and can cause significant economic damage to farmland, forage fields, and wild areas. They rank among the more important agricultural pests in the United States.

Fire ants can also inflict numerous and painful stings to humans, livestock, and wild animals. Indeed, numerous animals and some humans die each year from stings inflicted by fire ants. Besides being quite painful and potentially disfiguring, fire ant stings can trigger toxic or allergic reactions, and produce irritation and pustules which increase a victim's susceptibility to infection.

In some cases, fire ants have been known to attack in such great numbers as to kill, especially when the victims were very young, elderly, or otherwise unable to escape.

Professional Fire Ant Control

There are several broad-based programs on the federal, regional, and state levels to combat the spread of fire ants. So upon discovering a nest of fire ants, the first thing you should do is inquire with your state's Cooperative Extension department to see if there are any special procedures you should follow.

The regulations regarding specific control measures also vary from state to state. In some states, the government will send someone over to take care of it for you. In others, you are required to treat the problem yourself or have it treated by a qualified pest control operator. Because of the risk associated with fire ants and the difficulty in treating them, recommends that you consider professional treatment for fire ants.

Do-It-Yourself Fire Ant Control

If you would like to do it yourself, there are several options:

  1. The first and recommended option for do-it-yourselfers is to bait with a granular product labeled for Fire Ants, such as Amdro Fire Ant Bait, Spectracide Fire Ant Killer, or Enforcer Fire Ant Killer. Granular products are easier for the do-it-yourselfer to use, are less hazardous, and do not require expensive equipment.

  2. The second option is to treat the nest with a liquid insecticide that is labeled for fire ant control. Liquid treatment works more quickly than baiting, but it is more difficult and more hazardous. Large nests may require specialized equipment and several gallons of insecticide to achieve control. Most liquid insecticides labeled for fire ant control contain fairly toxic organophosphate compounds like acephate or chlorpyrifos, need dilution and mixing, and require specialized application equipment, making them more difficult and hazardous for untrained individuals to apply.

  3. Finally, there are some organic products such as Safer: Fire Ant Killer and Green Light Fire Ant Control that can be effective when used properly.

Because state laws vary, we also suggest that you contact your state's Cooperative Extension department for more specific instructions and chemical recommendations. Always read, understand, and follow all label instructions when using any pesticide product.