I’ll be honest – I don’t know if there’s anything quite as irritating as fire ants.
When I’m working in my garden, I want to be focused on pulling weeds and making sure my plants are well-cared for. I don’t want to be worried about ants crawling around and stinging me!
Fire ants are common in many parts of the world, and they’re known for their aggressive behaviors and venomous stings. Luckily, there are a few easy steps you can take to get rid of these pests in your garden and around your home – for good!
What Are Fire Ants?
There are several types of fire ants in the United States.
Some of them are indigenous, but the most annoying one – the Red Imported Fire Ant, or Solenopsis invicta, is considered to be one of the worst of all fire ants. It is a major pest in most areas of the country. It can reproduce rapidly and has aggressive swarming behaviors and painful stings.
First introduced to the United States in the 1930s through the port of Mobile, Alabama, this ant is native to South America. Today, it is found in at least 15 southern states.
That’s not to say that other, native fire ants aren’t irritating, too. All kinds of fire ants can sting, causing reactions that range from mild skin irritation to nausea.
There are single-queen and multiple-queen fire ant colonies. A single-queen colony will be incredibly territorial and forage only within that territory.
A worker in a multiple-queen colony won’t be quite as aggressive, moving freely around multiple mounds. You’ll probably notice more mounds per acre when dealing with this kind of infestation.
If you have a single queen colony, you could have up to 150 mounds per acre, but with a multiple queen colony, you could have 200 or more! That’s more than 40 million ants on a single acre. Yikes.
These pests build their mounds in any type of soil but they prefer open, sunny areas – cultivated fields and gardens are common nesting sites. They can also build nests around or under buildings.
Fire ants live about 180 days, although queens can live as long as six years. They forage for food leaked to dead animals, small insects, and sweet materials (like plant secretions).
Occasionally, though, they will also kill small animals and insects. They like to eat a wide variety of foods.
How to Identify Fire Ants
The first step in identifying a fire ant is in taking a look at the mound. Most active mounds (those with colonies) are around 18 inches in height. Sometimes, they’ll be located in alternative locations such as in rotting logs or around trees and stumps.
Unlike most ant mounds, a red ant mound will not have an opening in the center. That’s because red ants enter their homes through tunnels buried underground.
Don’t worry, though – you’ll know a mound is active when you disturb it. The workers will emerge, and begin to sting aggressively.
You’re most likely to see fire ants in the spring to fall months. During this time, up to 500,000 workers per colony will head out, foraging for food.
In the spring and summer, active mounds will also send out droves of winged ants to swarm and start new colonies, too.
Usually, fire ants are discovered near their mounds in open areas like parks, yards, athletic fields, gardens, and cemeteries.
Occasionally, though, they’ll also nest inside buildings during the winter months. Some common spots include under bathtubs and next to hot water heaters.
Soil is the most common nesting site, but they can also be found in masonry or woodwork. Even utility boxes and void spaces aren’t off-limits, especially if the weather is hot and dry.
If it’s a fire ant infestation you’re dealing with, you’ll see mounds of loose soil that somewhat look like gopher diggings.
Fire ants tend to be dark, and highly variable in size. They have the same body proportions, with the abdomen width larger than the head width.
What Problems Do Fire Ants Cause?
Fire ants create many problems for homeowners and gardeners. Not only can they sting you – perhaps the most frustrating part of having fire ants around – but they can cause other damage,.
For starters, they can attack animals that intrude on their nests. That could be you, unfortunately, or it could be your unsuspecting dog or cat. Fire ants also cause damage to buildings, plants, and even telephone wires and air conditioning units.
For some reason, these pests are attracted to electrical currents. They inflict damage by nesting in places they shouldn’t.
Fire ants are notoriously difficult to get rid of because they create vast nests underground. These can include tunnels that stretch more than 25 feet from the initial mound! They’ll even set up shop in your compost pile.
Preventing Fire Ants
Understand Fire Ant Behavior
Your first step in learning how to get rid of fire ants is to understand basic fire ant behavior. These pests move quickly and often. They also respond rapidly to disruptions.
When you disturb a mound, they will react almost instantly with a burning sting. However, this reaction extends underground too – fire ants often relocate to new areas after being disturbed, and they’ll do so in a matter of hours.
Keep it Clean
As with most pests, the easiest way to prevent fire ants is to keep things clean and tidy. Most ant infestations can be temporarily destroyed with the use of products, but treating the problem won’t necessarily get rid of the root cause. Make sure ants don’t come back by keeping things clean.
Outside, make sure you get rid of any brush or other debris, particularly that which is near your home or garden.
You will want to keep indoor areas tidy, too, paying attention to areas in which food is served. After all, limiting these ants’ access to food will encourage them to move out. No food, no shelter.
Get Rid of Standing Water
Remove any standing water that you have on your property. Standing water is a haven not only for fire ants, but for other pests and their larvae (like mosquitoes) too.
Dry up any areas where water has a tendency to pool. This includes puddles, gutters, bird baths, animal drinking troughs, and other wet spots.
How to Get Rid of Fire Ants
Fire ants are extremely irritating to deal with – and getting rid of an infestation can be stressful if you have pets or small children that you don’t want getting into dangerous insecticide applications. Here are some alternatives.
Cayenne pepper is a great solution if you want to fight fire with fire – or fire ants with more heat, that is!
You’ll want to start by bringing a quart of water to a boil. Add four sliced cayenne peppers to a glass jar and then pour the boiling water on top of them. Let the mixture steep for 24 hours, then remove the peppers and get ready to use your solution.
The theory here is that ants dislike walking on powdery substances. Therefore, you’ll want to start by pouring powdered cayenne pepper around the colony.
This will prevent them from escaping the mound. Dump cayenne water down the ant hill. This will not only kill the ants inside, but also render the mound uninhabitable.
There are few insecticides that are considered natural and safe to use on organic properties. One of these is spinosad.
This product can be applied to water and then sprayed on individual mounds as a drench. You will want to apply when the weather is cooler, ideally in the early morning or evening.
There is also a soil fungus that is approved for use around homes. Abamectin can quickly get rid of problem colonies and prevent the production of queen eggs. You will want to broadcast after a heavy dew.
Another option is to use a least-toxic botanical insecticide. These have fewer side effects than synthetic insecticides and break down more quickly in the soil, but can still have some unwanted consequences. Apply to the mound as a last resort.
Lemon water is another household remedy you can use to get rid of fire ants. You’ll just need to mix up some lemon juice with equal parts of water. Spray it on any ant areas, like entry points or trail areas.
You can also spray it near or on the mound. This method isn’t quite as effective as the cayenne pepper method, but it should still do a halfway decent job at getting rid of the fire ants on your poetry.
Vinegar is another solution you can use to get rid of ants. You’ll combine equal parts of water, baking soda, and vinegar – then pour the mixture onto the ant colony.
You can also spray it in high traffic areas. The strong scent of vinegar will get rid of the ants. It won’t necessarily kill them, but it should drive them away.
Both dish soap and dish detergent are harmful to soaps. They contain caustic chemicals that, though totally safe for you to use, break down the layers of the ants’ fragile exoskeletons.
It will cause them to dehydrate and die. Just mix up a bit of dish soap with some water and spray it near the most common ant entry points.
You’ve probably seen this remedy for other kinds of pests, too. Diatomaceous earth consists of the fossilized remains of marine phytoplankton.
It creates a harsh powder that scrapes the exoskeleton of ants when they move across it. It causes them to dry, out and eventually to die due to the loss of fluid.
It’s totally safe to use around pets and children – just scatter it near the mounds. You will need to reapply when it rains, though, as it loses its effectiveness when wet.
Get Rid of the Queen
Here’s a secret to getting rid of fire ants – you need to get rid of the queen. If you don’t get rid of the queen, you won’t be doing anything to solve your problem. You need to use a treatment or a bait that gets the queen.
Getting Rid of Fire Ants Indoors
Most of the treatments listed above,designed for use on outdoor ants, can also be used on fire ants when they come inside. Fire ants aren’t as common in your house, but they do occasionally wander in.
The exception? Don’t use harmful chemicals inside if you can avoid it and make sure you consult with a pest control professional before using any around your pets and children.
There are some natural methods, like diamtouces arth, that you need to be cautious about using inside, too.
For example, DE should not be applied to open or drafty areas (or countertops where food is prepared). It needs to be applied in an ultra-thin layer and any extra needs to be wiped up afterward to prevent cross contamination.
One Final Option to Get Rid of Fire Ants: Use Ant Baits
If you must use an ant bait, do it on a sunny day. You’ll want to pick a day in which there is plenty of activity around the mound.
That way, the ants will be out and about, and will be more likely to forage and pick up the bait. Avoid hot or rainy days, as they’ll be more likely to stay inside.
If you use ant bait, there are several options you can choose from, including liquid mound drench applications, granular mound drench applications, and broadcast baits.
Consult with a licensed pest control professional before using any kind of insecticide on your lawn. Sometimes, these can be harmful to local pollinators.
Be careful about applying baits in areas that are frequented by pets and children.
Fire ants definitely aren’t fun to deal with – they can turn a fun summer day into a miserable experience in no time. However, by following these steps and preventative measures, you should be able to evict them from your property for good.
Rebekah is a full-time homesteader. On her 22 acres, she raises chickens, sheep, and bees, not to mention she grows a wide variety of veggies. She has a huge greenhouse and does lots of DIY projects with her husband in her ever-growing homesteading endeavor. Learn more about Rebekah here.