By: Dr. Hackett
Fire Ants arrived in the United States in 1938 at the port of Mobile, Alabama aboard a ship from South America. Since that day they have steadily moved north toward East Tennessee. They have arrived. I found four nests in my yard in Solway last year and three more this spring. Oak Ridge National Lab has a report of them on their property as well. I spoke with a client who found two nests on his property in Morgan County.
What makes Fire Ants different?
The fire ant is unlike the ants we are used to in East Tennessee because they actually grab their victims with their pinchers like any ant could and then deliver a sting from a stinger in their abdomen. The sting contains a venom similar to a bee. When their nest is disturbed by an animal or human walking past they boil out of their nest in huge numbers and attack in force.
How do I know if there are Fire Ants in my yard?
The fire ant’s nest is a 5-6 inch high mound of dirt in a sunny area of your yard. They just seem to suddenly appear. There are no holes in the top of the mound as we are used to seeing and no ants are visible until they are disturbed. The ants themselves are intermediate in size between the small red ants and large black carpenter ants we are used to seeing in our yards. The ants are red in the head area and black in the abdomen.
How dangerous are the Fire Ants?
The sting of the ants causes a red welt which turns to a blister in 24 hours. Infection can result if the blister is scratched and opened. Young or small animals and children are at greatest risk due to their size and proximity to the ground. The stings can result in allergic reactions in some animals and people. In the U.S. , the ants result in an estimated 1 billion dollars of agricultural losses per year. This as compared to the estimated 1.5 billion dollars caused by termites.
Controlling Fire Ants
Using chemicals to control fire ants involves treating their nests and watering the surface to allow the insecticide a chance to penetrate the nest which may be five feet deep. The queens, there may be as many as five or more per nest, only eat food first eaten by the workers. Thus if the insecticide acts quickly it may never reach the queens. Each and every nest needs to be treated. The nests rechecked for live ants and retreated if necessary. Many recommended non-insecticide treatments are to be found ……club soda, baking soda, vinegar, molasses, plaster of Paris, and artificial sweeteners. Unfortunately none of these do little more than encourage the ants to move their mound at most. Dish washing soap mixed with citrus oil does seem to have some effectiveness. Mowing frequently and at a short level discourages the mound building. They prefer sun so shady areas are less likely to be invaded. There are flies which attack the ants and they have been imported in some southern states to limit the fire ants.
This is what a typical Fire Ant mound looks like. If you did not know any better you would think it was just a pile of dirt.
Here is a size comparison photo of the mound and a dime.
If you look closely, you can see the Fire Ants. This picture was taken after they had been disturbed. Unlike other ants, the Fire Ant does not hang out at the top of the mound unless attack.
This is Jasmine, one of Dr. Hackett and Jan’s Italian Grey Hounds, she was and unfortunate victim of an attack by Fire Ants.
As mentioned above, there are chemicals that are made to eradicate the mounds. Spectracide Fire Ant Killer is the brand that Dr. Hackett used to get rid of his Fire Ant infestation.
Here is a video of the Fire Ants when they are disturbed from their mound.