Fire ants are more than just nuisances. They are aggressive pests that attack and sting repeatedly when their territories are disturbed. Take charge of fire ant invasions by understanding their behavior and options for how to control infestations. This guide will show you how to get rid of fire ants so you can protect your family and your home.
How to Identify Fire Ants
The red imported fire ant (Solenopsis invicta) or RIFA, is a species of ant that is native to South America. They are known for their large mounds and fiery sting. Fire ants are typically found in the southern, southwestern or western United States. They thrive in warm, dry environments.
Fire ants are not uniform in size. They range in length anywhere from 1/8 inches to 1/4 inches. They are reddish brown to reddish black and sport two nodes and 10 segmented antennae. Like carpenter ants and other ant species, fire ants live in colonies. They have a distinct social structure consisting of a queen, drones, worker ants and alates, or reproductives.
Where are Fire Ants Found?
Fire ants are found in mounds. Fire ant colonies can have a single queen or a small group of queens. Within a month, a fire ant colony can grow to thousands. They are very aggressive and will violently attack anything if their mounds or nests are disturbed.
Fire ants are always on the move and migrate rapidly. They nest in almost any type of soil, but prefer open, sunny areas. They will set up camp in gardens, lawns or anywhere they can dig tunnels and build a mound. Unlike a typical ant hill, there is no entry to the fire ant nest through the mound. Fire ants enter the nest via tunnels that may reach several feet or more beyond the mound itself. A mound is not the sole indicator of an active colony nor is it necessary for the survival of a fire ant colony, which makes them hard to kill.
How to Treat a Fire Ant Mound
The most effective way to kill fire ants is to use the two-step method: baiting and mound drench. The first step involves using bait to kill the queen and other worker ants deep in the colony. The second step is to use insecticide for targeted treatments on the mounds. For both methods, it's best to treat fire ant infestations in cooler weather or in early morning or late evening hours when the ants are actively foraging.
How to Get Rid of Fire Ants Indoors
Ant baits work well as an indoor treatment because ants are social creatures. They will bring the bait back to the colony to share, which will help destroy the colony.
Baits can be placed in an area where you have seen ant activity in the home, but do not place them directly on an ant trail; ants will avoid bait traps placed in this manner. Place a bait trap near areas of activity and in spots that are likely to attract ants. Try placing them near drains, in kitchen cabinets, under the stove and refrigerator, and anywhere there are wall openings, such as around pipes and wall outlets.
Sprays can be used indoors to supplement baiting; in the event that ants already have an established food supply indoors, they may ignore baits. It is best to use a non-repellent fire ant spray to keep the ants from detecting the spray, allowing them to walk through the treated areas and pick up the product on their bodies so they can transport it back to the colony. A non-repellent spray will usually not kill on contact and will take more time to begin killing ants, but it will ultimately be more devastating to the colony over the long term as it spreads and infects more ants.
Apply sprays, or other fire ant control, into crevices along baseboards and around all openings in the home such as windows, doors frames and patio sliders.
How to Get Rid of Fire Ants Outdoors with Baiting
Fire ant baits are a granular insecticide, an insect growth regulator, or a combination of both. The insecticide kills the pests immediately and the insect growth regulator acts as a birth control for the fire ant colony. Whichever type of bait you decide to use, you will need to keep pets and children indoors and off the infested area as you apply the bait.
You have two options when it comes to using fire ant bait. You can bait individual mounds or broadcast it over your entire yard. If you have a medium to large infestation, it is more effective to broadcast the bait.
For best results, only apply fire ant baits to dry ground on a dry day or when no watering is planned, or rain expected for 48 hours. On hot days, wait until the evening when the ants are foraging.
Broadcast bait application:
- Use a broadcast spreader to apply granular fire ant bait to the infested area as directed on the product label.
- Leave the colonies undisturbed for several days. This allows foragers plenty of time to bring the bait to the nest and spread it among worker and queen ants.
- Apply the fire ant bait around the mound, not directly onto the mound, using the amount recommended on the product label.
- Leave the mound undisturbed for several days to allow foragers adequate opportunity to bring the bait to the nest and spread it among worker and queen ants.
When to Drench a Fire Ant Colony
Drenching is a great option when you need to quickly eliminate individual colonies. For this method you will need a concentrated fire ant insecticide, a dowel or broom handle, a hand pump sprayer and a 5-gallon bucket. Read the product label of the fire ant killer product you are using for usage rates and the recommended personal protection equipment.
Liquid Drench Method:
- In the hand sprayer, mix 1 gallon of fire ant insecticide solution according to the product label.
- Spray around the mound in a circle 6 to 10 feet in diameter to kill off any foragers. Allow application to dry.
- Mix another 1 to 2 gallons of solution in a 5-gallon bucket.
- Use dowel or broom handle to poke a hole down through the top of the mound.
Granules Drench Method:
- Apply granular insecticide three feet out around the mound according to the product label.
- Add the recommended amount of fire ant granules over top of the mound according to the product label.
- Pour water on and around the mound to soak in the granules according to the product label.
Effective fire ant treatments give you the edge you need to take back control of your yard. Visit The Home Depot website to find the fire ant bait and insecticide you need to get rid of fire ants.
How to Get Rid of Fire Ants Naturally
Some natural methods to employ to get rid of fire ants naturally includes the use of boiling water, dish soap, diatomaceous earth, baking soda, white vinegar, peppermint essential oil or cayenne pepper.
As with other insects, diatomaceous earth (DE) works to kill ants by lacerating their hard exoskeletons and dehydrating them. Obtain food-grade DE, as other types will not be as effective. Apply DE in thin layers in hard-to-reach areas between cabinets.
Straight white vinegar makes a great ant spray. You can saturate ant trials to kill on contact, or spray counters and other areas and either wipe up after a few minutes or allow the treatment to dry in place. The acid in vinegar kills ants and disrupts their scent trails, making it harder for more ants to follow the path.
Safety: Do not apply DE to counters, open or drafty areas or anywhere food is prepared. Apply in thin layers and wipe up any visible residue immediately. Always read and follow label directions for safe use of any pesticide.
What to Do if You're Bitten
Fire ants get their name due to the burning sensation you feel once you are bitten. This is due to the high concentration of toxins in fire ant venom. However, a common misconception is that what causes the distressing burning sensation is a fire ant's bite, when it's actually their sting. Fire ants bite to latch on, then use their stinger to create a painful, itchy bump. Each sting causes welts or pustules that can cause infections, allergic reactions or, in very rare cases, death by anaphylactic shock. A single fire ant can sting multiple times, which makes this pest particularly dangerous to small children and pets.
If you get stung by a fire ant, there are a few steps you can take to alleviate the pain:
- Ice the afflicted area on and off for about 15 minutes.
- Reduce swelling by raising up the part of your body that was stung.
- Take an antihistamine and use some anti-itch cream.
Whatever you do, avoid scratching the affected areas, or else they'll just get worse.
How to Prevent Fire Ants
Ant infestations can be mitigated with the use of products, but treatment alone will only temporarily clear up the problem. To make sure ants don’t return, you must take preventative measures to support the effectiveness of your selected treatment methods.
- Clean up outdoors. Regular and thorough outdoor maintenance can help keep ants at bay.
- Keep indoor areas clean and food-free. Limiting ants’ access to food will encourage them to move out. This may require taking additional steps beyond your normal cleaning routine.
- Eliminate standing water. Easily accessible water will encourage ants, so take steps to dry up any areas water may gather.
If you follow these guidelines, and keep up with preventative measures, you should be able to keep ants at bay. However, if the ant infestation gets worse, be sure to call a professional.