Ants on Fire: Everything You Wanted to Know About Fire Ants

Go barefoot in fire ant territory and you’ll soon know it – and why they’re such dreaded pests. If their fiery bite doesn’t convince you that they need to be far, far away, their unsightly giant, slumping mound homes will. The four varieties of warmth-loving fire ants in the US are limited to the southeastern quarter of the mainland, from the Atlantic coast to mid-Texas. Spread by migration and flooding, a mature fire ant colony can build a huge new mound overnight. Areas with multiple fire ant colonies can see 200 mounds (or about 400 billion ants) in one acre of land. It’s easy to see why they’re considered pests. But how does one deal with an invasion of tiny, subterranean, biting creepy-crawlies?

Know Your Enemy

Like other ants, fire ants are social insects, living in colonies of up to a quarter-million individuals divided into several types. There is generally only one queen who is responsible for the colony’s reproduction, thousands of immature ants, hundreds of potential reproducers, and tens of thousands of sterile workers. The worker ants have varying body styles depending upon their work assignment: food gathering, tunneling, egg tending, or defense. Workers excavate the huge tunnel systems and pile up the excess dirt in a large mound, where it gets the most sunlight possible and warms the tunnels below. Periodically from spring to late fall, the colony swarms, and the virgin reproductives fly out of the mound to mate. Fertilized queens land, drop their wings, and start a new colony. Ants happily eat quite a variety of organic material: plant fruit or seeds, carrion, and live prey. The food is stored inside the ants’ bodies and transferred to others. Foraging workers mark finds with a scent trail so they (and others) can find their way back to the supermarket. Arriving back at the colony, the worker will feed other ants with the food stored in its body.

Exploit Their Weaknesses

Colonies have a single queen, a single home, and feed each other. They also have some natural parasites and diseases. Ant-fighters can exploit these vulnerabilities to exterminate a colony.

  • Attack the mounds: Surface treatments won’t get to the deep tunnels, but flooding the mound with pesticide-containing liquids will.
  • Poison their food: Baits work well because the ants feed one another. It can take a while for a toxin to infiltrate the entire colony, but they will be destroyed eventually. Best of all, their mound location doesn’t need to be known. Bait in a problem area will get back to the mound of origin.
  • Rally their enemies: Still in experimental stages, biological agents (predatory flies, fungus, and parasitic ants) may someday be used to eradicate problem mounds.

Don’t Give Up

Fire ants can be tough to get rid of, but with perseverance and persistence, they can be eliminated from areas where they have become a threat to human health and welfare. It may be necessary to call in professionals like Strategic Industries to do the job. If you’re dealing with a fire ant infestation, call us at 770.619.2898 to see how we can help.