Frequently Asked Questions About Fire Ants

A lot of people are scared of fire ants. They have a painful bite and are known to swarm and bite in unison. They are also notoriously difficult to control. While there is some reason for concern, learning more about fire ants can help calm some of your worst fears. Here are some frequently asked questions about fire ants.

Frequently Asked Questions About Fire Ants [infographic]

What exactly are fire ants?

When people talk about fire ants, they are usually talking about red imported fire ants, Solenopsis invicta. They are an invasive species that has spread to much of the Southern United States and into Mexico and California as well. Fire ants are red and black in color and workers range from 1/16 of an inch to 1/4 of an inch in size. They are most noticeable by their mounds, small piles of earth that they build above their underground nest. Mounds vary in size, but rarely exceed 18 inches in diameter. They are known for swarming and biting all at once. When they are disturbed, they can swarm aggressively, climbing any vertical surface (such as a human leg) and biting and stinging in apparent unison. Their bite usually leave a white pustule.

Where did fire ants come from?

Red imported fire ants are native to South America. They first appeared in Alabama in the 1930s. They were likely imported accidentally through the port of Mobile, Alabama, in soil that was used as ballast for ships docking there.

Why do fire ants sting all at once?

Fire ants sting as a response to movement and vibration. If they crawl onto a person’s leg and the person moves their leg quickly (as one might if he were covered in ants), the sudden motion will cause the ants to sting. They are not communicating with each other to coordinate a mass stinging. Rather, each ant is individually reacting to the same stimulus.

Can you die from a fire ant bite?

Fire ant bites can be painful, but are rarely lethal. A very small portion of the population, around 1% of people, are hyper allergic to ant venom and can have a lethal reaction. Slightly more people are allergic enough to experience an anaphylactic allergic reaction. For most people, the bites produce white pustules on the skin, accompanied by some pain, but nothing more.

What should I do if I get stung by fire ants?

Like most bug bites, there isn’t much you can do about fire ant stings. If you are experiencing pain, you can treat it symptomatically. Otherwise, just keep an eye out for symptoms of an allergic reaction. If you develop symptoms of an allergic reaction, seek medical help immediately.

What is the best way to control fire ants?

If you have a concentration of fire ant mounds in a lawn or landscaped area, the two-step method is recommended. Broadly speaking, the two steps are: 1) Apply a bait insecticide to the whole yard once or twice a year. 2) Treat individual mounds as needed.

What is a bait insecticide?

Bait insecticides are small pieces of food that the ants collect and bring back to the mound. They are usually made of corn grits coated with soybean oil and then covered with insecticide. A bait insecticide is used as a cheap an effective way to treat a large area that includes multiple fire ant mounds. The bait is spread over the whole area, where the foraging workers can collect it and bring it back to the nest.

How does bait insecticide work?

The worker ants go out foraging for food and find the attractive bits of insecticide covered food. Then the workers bring the food back to the mound. The ants that feed off the food will ingest the insecticide. Hopefully it eventually reaches the queen. When the queen ingests the bait covered in insecticide it will either kill her or render her sterile.

When should I apply bait insecticide?

It is best to apply bait insecticide when fire ants are in foraging mode. This can be any time during the warm season. Apply the bait across your yard or infested area when it is dry and there is no rain expected for 24 to 48 hours. The best time to apply bait insecticides is in late summer and early fall. This is when the ants are still in foraging mode. It give the ants a chance to collect the bait and bring it back to the nest, where it can do its work over the winter months. By the time spring rolls around, the ant numbers will be greatly reduced. If you apply the bait to early in spring, it may still be too cold for the ants to come out of the nest. Ideal foraging temperature is around 70 degrees F.

How long does it take for the bait insecticide to work?

It can take weeks or months for the bait insecticide to achieve 80% to 90% effectiveness. Different types of baits work differently. Some fast acting bait insecticides reach maximum control in 2 weeks. Others can take 3-6 weeks. The slowest method is to use insecticides known as insect growth regulators (IGRs). These take several months to work, but have the longest lasting effects.

Are bait insecticides safe?

Yes. The amount of insecticide required to kill an ant is very, very small. It is not enough to have any effect on humans or pets.

Is there anything quicker than bait insecticides?

Yes. You can treat individual mounds with relatively fast acting methods. However, you are not guaranteed to kill the queen and ants will sometimes just relocate.

How do I treat a single mound?

There are generally three types of insecticide for individual mounds. Dists are applied on top of the mound. They work quickly, but can leave a residue on the ground. Liquid insecticides are poured over the mound and take several hours to work, but leave little residue. Some insecticides are applied as granules on top of the mound and then drenched in 1 or 2 gallons of water to soak them into the mound. These tend to work pretty quickly. With any insecticide, read the instructions carefully and make sure to follow them closely.

The two step method sounds like a lot of work. What if I’m not sure I can do it correctly? And what if it doesn’t work?

A professional pest control expert may have some tools and products that are not available to the general consumer. The experts at People’s Pest Control are experienced in fire ant control and will work with your infestation to achieve maximum control. You can contact us on our website of give us a call at (404) 480-4038 and we will set up a consultation.

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