With fire ant mounds popping up in yards, playgrounds and ball fields across the state, it may seem like we're all doomed to suffer their bites, but fear not! Try to manage fire ants without resorting to toxic chemicals, so you can enjoy a long hot summer without the sting of fire ant bites…or toxic pesticides! |
Getting rid of every last fire ant is not really possible, so keep things in perspective. With a little common sense and precaution, you can prevent fire ant bites, and discourage them from making a home in high-traffic areas..
As a group, the ants are found in almost every habitat. If resources in a habitat become available, one or more ant species soon will exploit them and will colonize the habitat. Imported fire ants are very efficient colonizers of disturbed or open habitats within their introduce range. Imported fire ants defend themselves when threatened by other ant species by raising their abdomens high in the air, extending their stingers and waving it, or "gaster flagging", and then spraying venom.
Fire ants cause a whole host of problems for native insect and plant communities. They also have deleterious effects on agriculture and even have the potential to seriously affect human health.
Gardeners who have tried to eliminate fire ant colonies know there is no shortage of advice on how to get to rid of the mounds, but few truly effective methods. But does that mean you need to turn to a toxic solution?
Here is Dr. Porter's assessment of the many nontoxic methods gardeners' try to get rid of fire ants.
Bucketing fire ant colonies
This is one of the simplest ways of ant control dealing with one or two problem colonies. Basically, the procedure is to rapidly dig the mound and a foot or so of soil under the mound and dump it into one or several large buckets. Sprinkling the bucket and shovel with baby powder or cornstarch before you starts keeps the ants from climbing out of them. Remember to tuck your pants into your socks to keep the ants where you can see them.
Dig up the soil at a time of day when most of the colony is in the mound. In the spring, the best time is usually mid- to late morning. In the summer, it might be early morning.
Once the ants are in the bucket, you can choose to drown the ants or simply to carry them to some place where they are not a problem. If you choose to drown the ants, add a generous squirt of dish soap, water from a hose, and stir to mix the soap throughout the mud in the bucket. The soap breaks the surface tension and drowns the ants much more quickly. It usually takes overnight to kill the ants. In the heat of the summer, they will probably drown faster, but on cool days in the spring, it may take longer. It is best not to fill the buckets more than three-quarters full of ants and dirt so there is room to add the water.
Hot water Pouring hot water on the mounds is effective and environmentally friendly, but may require 3 or 4 applications to kill the colony. Water should be at least scalding hot, but does not need to be boiling. This works best when you use 3 to 4 gallons of water in each application. WARNING: Hot water kills grass and shrubbery and may cause severe burns if spilled.
Corn grits Ineffective. The theory is that the fire ants will eat the dry corn grits, drink some water, and then die as the corn grits expand inside them. The image of greedy little ants exploding like popcorn inside their mounds is very compelling. The problem is that fire ant workers only drink liquids; they are incapable of ingesting solids. Fire ant larvae will eat solid food, but they chew it up and mix it with saliva just like we do before they swallow it. Grits simply don't work, so any perceived effects are due to mound disturbance and colony movement. (Don't look so skeptical—it's true!)
Diatomaceous earth Little crystals of silica are supposed to scratch the ant's cuticle so they dehydrate and die. Indeed, if you take a colony of ants and shake them up in bag with diatomaceous earth, about half die. But when you use it on ants outside they usually find ways to avoid it so not many ants are killed. They will not eat it in food and foraging ants do not track it into colonies where it might kill the queen or young fire ants.
Mixing different colonies together The idea is that workers from the two colonies fight until they kill each other. Workers from two single-queen colonies will fight if they are mixed, but it will rarely result in both or even one colony being killed. However, if you mix fire ant colonies together with multiple-queens in them, it only makes for a bigger party.
Household cleaning products Most don't work at all. Some act as a repellent, causing the colony to build new mound a few feet away. Anything that does work is likely to be expensive and bad for you, your yard, and the environment.
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