As the temperature rises and conditions become dry during summer, fire ants enter homes in search of food and water. This can cause problems ranging from the nuisance of finding ants in stored foods and potted plants to the real danger of stings-particularly multiple stings when fire ants climb onto sleeping inhabitants. |
Fire ants are outdoor, soil-dwelling insects. They rarely invade buildings, but when they do, they usually cause problems.
Indoor fire ant invasions happen for two reasons. The first is when foraging workers wander into a building, find a food source, such as pet food or spilled food crumbs, and recruit other workers to this food source. This results in a trail of workers traveling back and forth from the outside nest to the inside food source and a concentration of ants around the food source.
The second cause of indoor fire ant invasions is when an entire colony of fire ants attempts to relocate because of disturbance by flooding, drought, landscaping or other causes. This is less common, but more distressing.
Several conditions can contribute to fire ant problems inside homes:
Poor sanitation. Be sure to clean up food and drink spills, and keep stored foods tightly sealed. Do not dump kitchen waste in your lawn close to the house, as this will attract foraging ants.
Poor construction practices. Fire ants can gain access to home interiors through a variety of entryways. In our experience in Oklahoma, fire ants commonly enter through poorly sealed windows. In one case, a child had left food scraps between the interior and exterior windows-so check the windows in your child's room! Fire ants also enter through gaps under walls, and through holes for wiring and plumbing. Sometimes the problem area can be located by searching for small piles of soil or sand, since fire ants frequently carry those materials indoors at points of entry. If points of entry are found, be sure to seal them tightly or call a contractor if the problem calls for it.
Moisture problems. In some rare cases, fire ants nests can be found in very unusual situations, such as roofs of buildings or in wall voids. Fire ants do not necessarily require soil for a suitable nesting site-but they do require a certain amount of moisture. Be sure to fix leaks in your home (especially in plumbing in the wall voids) and make sure exterior faucets do not drip, to avoid attracting fire ants. Be certain that your roof drains properly.
Movement of plants. Potted plants are an oasis for red imported fire ants during hot and dry Oklahoma summers. Many people move plants in and out of the house. When bringing plants in, be very careful not to bring in pots that contain fire ants.
Movement of toys and other objects. Be careful when bringing most any object in from outside your home. Fire ant colonies will build their nests up into cavities in molded plastic toys and other hollow objects. A quick inspection before carrying things inside can pay off.
Pet food. Your pet's food can be a good attractant for fire ants. Store pet food in tightly sealed containers. If possible, feed your pets away from the house, and clean up uneaten food as soon as possible.
Mulch. Heavily mulched areas adjoining your home may provide an attractive habitat for fire ants to nest.
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