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Use appropriate measures to control fire ants

Fire ants are one of the homeowner's worst nightmares. They inflict painful stings on anyone who comes into contact with them. Their sting can cause allergic reactions in susceptible individuals.

The ants also build unsightly nests in lawns as well as forage for food inside homes and other structures. They will aggressively defend their mounds if disturbed. Despite the problems they cause, fire ant infestations can be managed and their harmful effects minimized.

Fire ants are an invasive insect native to South America and were accidentally imported into this country through Mobile, Ala., back in the 1930s. They have spread throughout the southeastern United States and are continuing to move north and west. Our favorable climate has allowed them to easily become established.

Unfortunately there is not a silver bullet for controlling fire ants. The goal of any treatment is to eliminate fire ants where the risk to people is high, and to reduce infestations to minimal levels. The main objective of any control measure is to kill the queen since she is the only one capable of reproducing and without her the whole colony will die off.

There are basically three strategies when using chemicals pesticides. The first one involves broadcasting a bait, which is an insecticide mixed with a food source that attracts ants throughout the infested area. Amdro and Maxforce are examples of baits used for controlling fire ants. Make sure the ground is dry before broadcasting. Worker ants carry the bait into their mounds and feed it to the queen. Eventually the whole colony will die. This process may take a week or more.

The second strategy is treating the individual mounds with an insecticidal drench which consists of an insecticide, such as liquid Sevin or Orthene, diluted in water. The drench is quite effective in controlling the ants if it penetrates deeply to the bottom of the mound.

The third strategy is to do a broadcast application of a granular insecticide labeled for the control of fire ants, such as Over' n' Out or Triazicide Once-and-Done Insect Killer, to the entire area where you want control. These products can take a few days to work but can potentially control the fire ants for up to a year if applied properly. The application of the granules can help prevent new infestations in the treated area.

Remember, when using pesticides follow all label directions and safety precautions.

If you are reluctant to use pesticides, pouring boiling water on top of the mounds works fairly well. The best times to do so are when the ants are close to the surface as on a sunny, cool day. Most of the ants are usually killed, although sometimes the mounds will have to be retreated. Research has shown grits and other homemade remedies are ineffective.

If the fire ants are coming indoors, remove open food sources and seal up any holes or cracks around doors or windows. Locate the fire ant mounds that are outside and treat them to reduce the numbers that may be going indoors.

Fire ants can be a real menace, but they can be brought under control by using the appropriate measures. Doing so will reduce the chances of people coming into contact with them and suffering from the painful stings they inflict.

Timothy Daly is an agricultural and natural resource extension agent with Gwinnett County. He can be contacted at 678-377-4010 or tdaly@uga.edu.