Fire Ant Control: The Two-Step Method and Other Approaches

by Janet Hurley, Texas A&M AgriLife

When it comes to insect pests, fire ants would probably top everyone’s list! Red and black imported fire ants (Solenopsis invicta and Solenopsis richteri) are invasive species and their painful bites can injure or kill livestock, wildlife, domestic animals, and humans. Their large mounds (as many as 300 per acre) are unsightly and often damage mowers and other equipment. Fire ants also infest buildings and can damage electrical equipment by chewing on wire insulation.

Fire ants cost Americans $6 billion a year, including the cost of insecticides. The Two-Step Method and other approaches described here can lower that cost while reducing environmental damage and improving fire ant control. Knowing your options will allow you to make better choices to protect your family, pets, and property.

Identifying Fire Ants

There are hundreds of ant species in the southern United States, including some native fire ant species, and most of them are considered beneficial insects. Collectively, ants till more earth than earthworms and some prey on other insect pests to help to reduce their numbers. 

Fire ants will build their mounds almost anywhere—in the open or next to a building, tree, sidewalk, or electrical box. A fire ant mound does not have a central opening. Fire ants emerge quickly and begin biting and stinging when the mound is disturbed. They will even run up vertical surfaces.

Worker fire ants are dark reddish-brown with shiny black abdomens, and are about 1/16- to about 1/4-inch long. Fire ants are similar in appearance to many other ants, so make sure you have correctly identified the species before attempting to solve your ant problem. If you are uncertain about the species, call your local extension office for assistance in identifying your ants.

Controlling Fire Ants

Most people and school districts (about 80 percent according to one survey) try to control fire ants by treating individual mounds. Mound treatments are expensive, up to $2 or more per mound, and require lots of time and labor if you have much land to treat. You can easily use too much insecticide, which may lead to environmental contamination if rain-washes the insecticide into lakes and streams. To be effective, the mound treatment must kill the queen(s). Otherwise, the colony will survive. Some nests may go undetected. Even an area where every mound has been treated can soon be re-infested by fire ant colonies migrating from untreated areas or floating there on floodwater. In addition, deep-dwelling colonies that escaped mound treatment can quickly form mounds after a soaking rain. It is usually more effective and less expensive for School Districts to treat the entire yard with a product designed for broadcast application.Fire ants cannot be eliminated because it is not possible to treat all infested areas. There may not be one best method for fire ant control, especially in large areas. Your objective should be to find the method or methods that are most cost-effective, environmentally sound, and fit your tolerance level for fire ants.

Keep reading on how to control fire ants and find additional handouts to share with staff visit our website at http://schoolipm.tamu.edu/2017/03/29/spn-fire-ant-control-the-two-step-method-and-other-approaches/

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