Fire ants have an average length of 1/8 to ¼ inch. They are more aggressive compared to other species of ant. The color is red and black. It has a dark abdomen. Similar to other insects, they also have a hard exoskeleton, which serves as the protection of their body. They have three pairs of legs that they use to crawl from one place to another. Aside from harming plants, they are also annoying for humans as they can sting.
Fire Ant’s Habitat
Fire ants form colonies and they create mounds or hills in areas where they survive. This serves as their shelter, providing them protection from the external environment. They can live on almost any type of soil, although they survive more in areas that are sunny and open. With this, they commonly live in gardens, agricultural lands, golf courses, playgrounds, and meadows, among others. Mounds are also frequent near areas with rotting logs or decaying vegetation. If the weather is hot or when it is more than 36 degrees Celsius, fire ants do not live in mounds. Rather, they stay under the ground and come out only at night in search of their food.
Identifying Fire Ant’s Damage
Fire ants eat not only food and insects, but also plants. Some of the most common hosts are agricultural crops, which include corn, soybean, and eggplant. They are also common in citrus, potato tubers, and okra.
Watch out for the following signs, which will be indicative of the presence of fire ants:
- Most of the damages from fire ants are evident on the soil surrounding the plant, rather than on the plant itself. They will disturb the soil and can create mounds, which can be a nuisance, especially in sports fields, lawns, and golf courses.
- Girdling is another symptom of the presence of fire ants. Also known as ring-barking, this refers to the removal of the bark of the tree. This can be a result of the feeding of the fire ants. Eventually, in the worst of situations, this can lead to the death of the tree.
- For humans, on the other hand, symptoms of fire ant sting include a burning sensation. There will be itching and it will be followed by the formation of a white pustule. Without proper cleaning and immediate action, this can escalate into an infection.
Results of Infestation
Most of the feeding activity of fire ants happen when the host plant is still young. Hence, it prevents its growth as it inhibits the transport of nutrients. They also feed on the germinating seeds of their host, such as in young corn. More than visible damages on the plant itself, they also create mounds. They can damage even electrical equipment and will make lawns or golf courses unattractive. They are also known for attacking newborn animals, which can lead to blindness and suffocation. As aggressive feeders, they can also damage the ecosystem. Lastly, because they sting, they can be a social menace and can hurt humans.
How to Get Rid of Fire Ants
Natural and Organic Solutions
For the elimination of fire ants in a manner that is safe but effective, the following are some of the solutions that are promising:
- One of the first things that you should do is to destroy the mound, which serves as their shelter. This needs to be done properly as the fire ants are aggressive when they are disturbed. An environmentally-friendly solution is to pour hot water on the top of the mound. In most cases, it will require up to four applications before you will succeed. You can also dig the mound and dump it in a large bucket.
- Another solution that will work is the use of diatomaceous earth. The latter is a food-grade bug killer that works even for ants. Sprinkle it on the area where there is an infestation of fire ants and it will kill them. It will work by scratching the cuticle of the ant. They will suffer from dehydration and will die.
- Biological control is also a promising solution. Introduce beneficial insects and natural enemies of fire ants in the garden. Parasites and predators will kill the fire ants without causing harm to other insects or your pets. Spiders, horned lizards, and birds are just some of the predators that will be helpful in controlling the population of fire ants and in eliminating them in the garden.
- Do not despise the use of pesticides. However, it is important to look at the ingredients used and see to eat that they are organic. Those that contain spinosad can be an excellent option. It undergoes bacterial fermentation and the compound attacks the nervous system of fire ants to kill them upon contact.
Regardless of the option that you will choose, keep in mind that none of them will yield permanent results. It is inevitable that fire ants will be back in the area where they have been initially removed. With this, continuous monitoring is necessary to know when it is time to act to control the population of fire ants.
Chemical pesticides have a bad reputation because of their toxicity. Despite this, it remains to be a popular option for many people who cannot control the population of fire ants using organic methods. With this, chemical sprays are popular. They contain a wide array of active ingredients, such as carbaryl, which is the main ingredient in Sevin. Other active ingredient and specific brands include pyriproxyfen (Esteem), fenoxycarb (Award), and abamectin (Ascend).
How to Prevent Fire Ants
One of the best things that you can do is to keep the garden clean. Pick up any decaying vegetation or plant debris. See to it that it is free from anything that is unnecessary. Perform regular inspection all throughout and pay attention to the formation of mounds. You should destroy these mounds even before they attract more colonies of fire ants.