The red imported fire ant is one of the smaller ant types that you will deal with mainly in your garden. And if you’re unfortunate, they’ll end up in your home as well.
But despite their size, they can cause a lot of problems in more than just your lawn and pantry.
According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), an estimated $5 billion is spent annually on medical treatment, damage, and control of fire ants in infested areas. They also cause a further $750 million worth of damage in agricultural settings.
So, it’s safe to say that these guys mean business, but here we are going to help you fight back and claim back what is rightfully yours.
This article will tell you what fire ants are, how they operate, and of course, how to get rid of the menaces.
Let’s get fired up.
What You'll Learn
- 1 What are Fire Ants?
- 2 What do Fire Ants Look Like?
- 3 Where do Fire Ants Live?
- 4 What Harm do Fire Ants Cause?
- 5 How to Get Rid of Fire Ants – Ant Killers
- 6 Natural Remedies to Remove Fire Ants
- 7 How to Remove Fire Ant Nests
- 8 How to Prevent Fire Ants Returning?
- 9 Conclusion
What are Fire Ants?
The red fire ant was accidentally imported from Brazil into North American via a cargo ship. It is not a native insect.
As such, it has no natural predators and has become an invasive species that causes many problems for homeowners.
Fire ants are aggressive little ants that are fiercely protective of their environment, especially the colony and queen.
They will attack anything they think is a threat by latching on to it and stinging it multiple times. Injecting their venom causes a protracted burning sensation – which is why they are called the fire ant.
With fire ant colonies typically having thousands of ants nearby, they will gang up on their enemy. In their sheer numbers, they can kill small animals quite quickly with multiple stings. A severe reaction to the venom can cause anaphylactic shock in humans, which has led to some fatalities.
Fire ants are omnivores that will feed on both animal meats and vegetables. Their primary diet is protein-based, sourced from eating dead insects.
When around human habitats, they will forage for fatty and sweet food such as discarded or dropped pet food, jams, peanut butter, and bread.
What do Fire Ants Look Like?
Fire ants are relatively small, and they measure between 2 to 6mm. They come in a variety of sizes, depending on the ant’s role in their colony.
Their heads and bodies are coppery-brown, and their abdomens are darker. Fire ants have a noticeable waist section and visible stinger on the tail. They are not bright red like clover mites.
Fire ants are aggressive, particularly near the nest. So, if you suspect that you’ve got fire ants, we wouldn’t suggest getting too close to them.
Where do Fire Ants Live?
Fire ants like to nest in soil, preferably well-drained, soft, sandy soil as it is easier to work with when constructing their anthills.
Their nests are typically located near to a water source such as riverbanks, pond shores, and regularly watered lawns.
If the right surroundings are available, the nest will not usually be visible. As the ants will build it under objects such as timber, logs, rocks, or bricks for additional protection and cover from the elements.
If no cover is available, they will choose to build dome-shaped mounds in open spaces, such as fields, parks, and of course, the middle of your lawn. These mounds can reach heights of 40cm, possibly higher on heavier soils.
On the odd occasion, when the weather is particularly cold, the fire ant may make its way indoors. They will set up shop somewhere warm near to a water source, like next to a hot water tank or in the bathroom next to hot water pipes.
What Harm do Fire Ants Cause?
Fire ants can cause harm in two ways – damage and injury. They present a threat to both your lawn and your health.
On your lawn, they are likely to cause damage such as bald patches and dead grass. Plus, their anthills, when dispersed by a mower, will cause craters and an uneven surface.
This makes it unsightly and uncomfortable for you when you come to use it for sunbathing or picnicking.
As a stinging insect, the fire ant can cause significant harm if you have an allergic reaction to its sting. Or at the very least a drawn-out, painful encounter if you are not allergic. And small pets and newborn babies are particularly vulnerable to their sting.
Unlike other ants, the red ant first bites with its pincers to get a good grip and steady itself, ready to use its stinger to maximum effect.
The venom it releases will cause a burning sensation for a few hours afterward and leave a small white blister on top of the entry point. Times this by the number of ants that have attacked you, and you can be sure you won’t be comfortable for many days afterward.
How to Get Rid of Fire Ants – Ant Killers
Due to the nature of the way fire ants nest and are visible on the ground’s surface, a two step method is the best way to deal with them. Employing pesticide products will be the quickest solution.
Popular proven-effective products contain pyrethroids or acephate, which are great for dealing with fire ants.
Using a product that baits ants and kills the queen and her colony, alongside a product that targets the mounds directly, will give you the best chance of wiping them out. This includes the ants you can see and those in the colony.
This method applies to both indoor and outdoor infestations.
The application of a slow-release bait near to the nest is a must. Baits contain an ant killer ingredient that will act slowly, giving it time to reach the nest via the worker ants. This ensures maximum exposure to the queen.
Alongside the fire ant bait, it is advisable to use a faster acting mound treatment such as a water-soluble spray or fast-acting granular insecticide.
This will help reduce the activity around the nests and remove many of the ants, giving you immediate relief from the volume of ants in your yard.
A spray fire ant insecticide is also advisable in the home. This will allow you to remove the fire ants from problematic areas such as kitchens and bedrooms, so they do not sting people.
Outside, post mound treatment, surface granules with fire ant specific insecticides can then be spread across the entire lawn. This will kill ants that are away from the nest foraging and ensure the whole lawn is free from ants.
Some full lawn treatment products will remain active for up to six months after application. This allows you to prevent the ants from re-establishing the destroyed mounds. Not on our watch!
Natural Remedies to Remove Fire Ants
Some less severe homemade options that remove the need for chemicals are proving increasingly popular, especially for those who wish to do their bit for the environment, and those who are worried about pets in the yard.
These remedies range from direct attacks on nests down to homemade mixes of natural oils and household ingredients. Some will kill, some will just deter, and some will both kill and repel ants.
Here some popular choices that appear to be the most effective in the natural category:
Boric Acid and Sugar Bait
This combination is one of the simplest and more effective natural fire ant baits. This mix will entice the ants to eat the deadly paste, and the boric acid will kill them slowly.
This slow-acting formula allows them to take it back to the colony and share it with their larvae and queen.
An easy way to apply this method is to mix half a cup of powdered sugar with one and a half tablespoons of borax and pour that into one and a half cups of warm water.
Take cotton balls and soak them in the mixture and place them near to any visible ant trails and nests.
Diatomaceous earth is the ground-up remains of fossilized phytoplankton. It comes in powder form and can kill many species of ants, including fire ants.
The tiny particles have razor-sharp edges that cut open the ant’s exoskeleton leading to dehydration and death.
Diatomaceous earth is easy to apply, and most products come with a duster to make application even easier.
Simply dust around areas of the fire ant colony where you have seen the ants foraging, or around the fire ant mounds if you know where they are. It will kill most ants within 48 to 72 hours.
The ants will also transfer it to the colony by contact, meaning that there is a chance the queen will encounter it and die.
A bold approach is often suggested as the best, quickest, and cheapest way to deal with any insect nest. Simply find the entrance and pour boiling water into it. It will burn and drown the ants instantly.
A word of caution, though, be sure the ant-infested ground isn’t under your feet because if you annoy the ants and don’t kill them, they will make a beeline for your legs.
Boiling water is not always the best solution because it will burn your grass, leaving brown patches everywhere. But, if they’ve already gone to town on your lawn, you’ve got nothing to lose.
This vinegar mixture is not an ant killer, but it will make them evacuate at speed because of the overpowering vinegar scent.
Once the ants have departed, it can prevent fire ants returning, and it leaves the coast clear for destruction.
How you do that, it is up to you. But we’ve seen videos of molten metal poured into nests to create a cast, which is pretty darn cool if you ask us.
The recipe is simple. Combine equal amounts of vinegar, water, and baking soda and pour directly into the anthill openings. This spray can also keep ants out of pet food when sprayed around feeding areas too.
Orange oil contains d-limonene, which will kill fire ants upon contact. The best homemade orange ant killer uses both orange oil and dish soap with a gallon of water.
Mix three ounces of dish soap with one and a half ounces of orange oil and one gallon of water. Stir well until the solution has blended.
Use it as a mound drench either early morning or close to sunset when the majority of ants will be inside.
How to Remove Fire Ant Nests
The best and most effective way to eliminate fire ant nests is by targeting the nest directly. Removal can be done in two ways:
Mound drenches are a toxic fire ant specific liquid containing an effective fire ant killer such as acephate. The water-soluble pesticide can be mixed and sprayed all over the mound.
This will kill both fire ants outside the nest and soak into the ground deep into the soil, giving the insecticide a good chance of reaching the queen located deep underground.
Granules containing fire ant specific insecticides are spread across the top of the mound and around the surrounding area, also known as a broadcast treatment.
This method is usually a contact killer, so ants that go to and from the nest will likely encounter it and carry some back to the queen, killing her and the colony in the individual mounds.
When targeting fire ant mounds, avoid wet weather and scorching days as this will be when the fire ants are at their least active.
Wet granules will spoil and be unappealing to ants, and on hot days they will be underground staying out of direct sunlight.
How to Prevent Fire Ants Returning?
Keeping ants away from your home and garden can be done in many ways. Several preventative products will create a repellant barrier with either a spray or powder, making a perimeter that the ants will not cross.
Available for both indoor and outdoor use, they will need to be applied repeatedly to stay effective. The home sprays may last up to a few weeks at a time, while the lawn treatments can give up to six months of protection before they need repeating.
Natural essential oils are also a good deterrent for fire ants. You can make up your own mix and spray it where required.
The pungent aromatic aroma will cause havoc with the ant’s antennae signals and receptors, causing them to forage elsewhere.
Citrus fruit peels can also deter ants in the home. Strategically placed into vents and openings that ants might use as an entrance will stop ants from entering.
Prevention is better than a full out fire ant war because trust us when we say they don’t fight nice.
And that, dear readers, is the end of our fire ant frenzy. Hopefully, we’ve made it clearer about how to get rid of fire ants.
If you thought we were going to say you should fight fire with fire, you were wrong. Although you could give it a go, many soldiers have lost their eyebrows. And pride.
So, choose one of our methods above over gasoline and matches, and we promise you’ll win the fire ant war. Careful planning and strategic product placement is key here.
If you have a tried and tested method for fool proof fire ant eradication, or an amusing fire on fire story, drop it in the comments below, and we’ll see you there.