Fire ants, also known as ginger ants or red ants, are a type of stinging ant that can be found nesting in the soil near moist areas such as rivers, ponds, and watered lawns. While many ants can cause irritation by spraying acid, they also inject alkaloid venom with their sting. They bite in order to get a grip so that they can then use their venom-injecting sting against their prey. The venom is toxic, and can even be fatal for particularly sensitive people or those with allergies. As with many allergies, the venom can cause anaphylaxis, which requires immediate, emergency treatment. Other symptoms of the toxic venom are localized to the site of the sting and include painful swelling, red bumps, and pustules which can become infected.
What to Look For
Fire ants nest in the soil. Typically, their colonies use dirt to build large mounds. Usually, the nest will be hidden under objects such as logs, stumps, rocks, or bricks. If there is no cover, the ants will construct a dome-shaped mound. Generally, these domes are found in open areas such as fields, parks, and lawns, where it is not possible to build a cover for the mound. They can also nest indoors, sometimes inside electrical equipment and utility housings, causing short circuits. If and when a nest is disturbed, fire ants will run out and attack.
Several species exist in the United States. Each behaves slightly differently and responds to different treatment.
· European Fire Ants are testy, attacking anything that disturbs their nest. Their stings cause welts that can become red and uncomfortable. The best treatment is to bait them using boric acid. Studies have found that boric acid damages the ants’ intestines. It can be purchased at local grocery stores and hardware stores. To make this bait, simply mix 1/8 tsp. of 1% boric acid, and 1 tbsp. of corn syrup. The corn syrup attracts the ants to the bait. Then combine 1 part mixture: 2 parts water. Put the bait mixture in containers near the nests, and in any shady, moist areas that you wish to guard against these pests. Bait every three months.
· The Red Imported Fire Ant, or RIFA, can wreak havoc on landscaping, crops, and livestock. They are one of the most devastating and destructive species. This invasive species was first accidentally introduced into the U.S. in the 1930’s. The FDA estimates that over five billion dollars is spent each year on treating damage and controlling RIFA populations. The best treatment is to bait the entire yard, rather than an individual mound. The best baits, such as Extinguish Plus and Amdro Fire Strike, contain both slow-acting and fast-acting ingredients. After the entire yard has been treated, look for mounds that pop up and treat them individually as needed. Repeat this procedure at least two times, annually.
· Southern Fire Ants are less aggressive than RIFA, but if they feel threatened, they will strike. These ants work in large, efficient colonies, so any treatment can take several weeks to work. Use baits with hydramethylnon and fipronil and place throughout the whole yard or affected area. Treat individual mounds with the same ingredients, but keep in mind that given the pervasiveness of the colonies, it may be best to bait the larger area. Granular baits with a slow-acting formula are the most effective because they keep the ants from dying before returning to their nest.
Consider these treatment options and apply the right ant control method to rid your home of these pests.