Fire ant activity will soon begin

By James Parsons Contributing columnist

March 24, 2014

It is Spring and Red Imported Fire Ants will soon be on the move. It is now time to begin thinking about controlling fire ants.

Fire ants forage for food during the spring and fall and prefer oily and greasy foods, but they also feed on other insects. They are most active when temperatures are between 70 and 85 degrees F. Hopefully we will soon start having days with these temperatures.

Eradication of fire ants is almost impossible, but control is fairly easy around poultry houses and yards. Individual mound treatment is the most environmentally and ecologically accepted method and is the most economical. Large areas with heavy infestation may require broadcast applications of insecticides. Be sure to contact the Cooperative Extension Center for more information. Some insecticides may not be labeled for application in certain areas.

The goal of treating individual mounds is to kill the queen. Both drenches and baits may be used to accomplish this. Again, you may want to contact the Cooperative Extension Center to determine which chemical and approach will be best for you.

Drenches work well if you desire a quick kill of the fire ants. Most ants contacted by the drench will die in less than 24 hours. However, drenching may not completely saturate the mound and kill all worker ants or the queen. If this happens, the surviving ants will build new mounds near the original mound. Always follow label directions for the insecticide you choose. A good rule of thumb to remember when drenching mounds is the “6 inch rule”. You should apply 1 gallon of the water mixed insecticide for each 6 inches of mound diameter. Thoroughly wet the ground to a distance of about 2 feet around the mound.

Baits work very well in controlling fire ants, mainly because the workers take the bait down inside the mound to the queen. However, baits work slower than drenching. Another concern with baits is their short shelf life. Never buy more bait than you will use in one year. It simply will go rancid. I also recommend opening the container at the store with a salesperson present before buying the bait. Baits use an oil base to attract fire ants and this is what goes rancid. Smell the bait before buying, if it smells rancid, do not buy that container. Fire ants will not eat rancid bait.

One of the best methods for good, quick control of fire ants is a combination of baits and drenches. Apply the bait as directed on the label for at least 2 days in a row, but do not apply bait if the ground is wet from rain or dew. After the bait is applied, wait at least one week, then drench the mound with an approved insecticide.

(Editor’s Note: James Parsons is a NC Cooperative Extension Agent, Area Specialized Agent-Poultry covering Duplin, Sampson and Wayne Counties. His office is in the Duplin County Extension Center.)