Fire Ants by Byron Chitwood, Master Gardener.
It’s that time of the year when you begin to notice that you have fire ants in your yard or pasture. Actually, they have been there all through the winter. They just set up housekeeping deeper underground to avoid the cold. Now that the temperature has warmed up, they have moved closer to the surface of the ground, especially after a rain. As the water level rises after a rain, fire ants will build a fluffy mound above the surface of the water level to protect the queen and babies. If you happen to disturb one of these mounds, they will come out in mass and attack and sting everything that moves. Where they sting, will get red, hurt, itch and eventually develop into a pus pocket. People who are highly sensitive to fire ants might require medical treatment. Take precautions when working in the yard or garden. Precautions include wearing knee high rubber boots with pants legs tucked in. Wear gloves and long sleeves. Work in the yard or garden during daylight hours so that you can see and avoid mounds.
Fire ants can be controlled using the “Texas Two Step” approach. Note, I said controlled, not eliminated. This method consists of the following procedures:
Broadcast Bait: Broadcast bait throughout your lawn and vacant lots with a hand held or push type spreader. Set the spreader on its lowest setting. There are many brands of bait available at your favorite garden and yard supply store. Follow the directions on the package. Most advise broadcasting 1 to 1.5 pounds per acre. This is not very much but that is all that is required for control. The fire ants will forage for food during the night and carry it back to the den where it is fed to the other ants and the queen. When the queen dies, that will be the end of the colony since she is the only ant in the family that lays eggs. All of the ants will eventually die, either from eating the bait or at the end of their life cycle. Apply bait only when the weather is warm enough for the ants to forage. To determine if they are foraging, apply a small amount of bait on top of the mound and if it is gone within 30 minutes or overnight, they are actively foraging. Do not disturb the mound after application. This can cause the ants to move their colony.
Mound Treatment: If you have a problem mound, one that you can’t avoid, treat it by applying either a granular, liquid or dust type insecticide directly to the mound. Follow the directions on the insecticide container. Usually, the directions recommend sprinkling a small amount on the mound and watering it in with several gallons of water. Use a hand held watering can if you have one or a gentle spray head on the end of your garden hose. Water very slowly so that the insecticide has time to sink in and reach the deepest part of the ant colony.
It would good practice for your neighbors to treat for fire ants at the same time. It doesn’t take long to spread the bait and usually, it is more economical to buy large quantities of ant bait which can be shared with your neighbors. Most ant baits contain oil which will eventually get rancid after the package is unsealed. Sharing the cost and treating a larger area will forestall the next invasion of fire ants on your property. For further information on fire ants, go to the website http://fireants.tamu.edu.