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Fire Ant Control

The War on Fire Ants

Fireant control can be time consuming and costly. But, hey, this is war!

There are several methods to kill fire ants, some take a few hours, others a few weeks or months. The most important thing to remember when dealing with fireants is to be patient. And make sure you treat or remove all the mounds because if you miss even one young mound, they'll win. Re-infestation will occur in less than a year.

If you have one mound, chances are good that there are others in the area. They have tunneled underground and popped up where you see them. This makes it difficult to get rid of them because you must kill the queen. Getting to the queen can be hard.

Although we want to kill the fire ants as quickly as possible, it is better to be patient and use a product without a lot of poison in it. Remember, you must kill the queen. Fire ants pass along bits of chewed up food to each other until it reaches the queen. If they detect anything unusual in the food, they will not pass it along and it will never get to the queen. If you try to poison them quickly, it will look like you've been successful, but you've only put a temporary dent in the population unless the queen is gone.

Read on for the information we have for a fire ant killer.

 

One Unsuccessful Story

Mirex was highly effective for reducing fire ant populations and was easy to apply over large areas. Unfortunately, its use may have actually helped the fire ant population in the final analysis. The issue was that Mirex killed a wide variety of the competing indigenous species that were slowing the spread of fire ants. Furthermore, Mirex produced a byproduct, dioxin, which is highly toxic to humans.

First, a Word on the Environment

Although it is commonly said that all is fair in love and war, we want to promote environmentally friendly actions. For an example of the issues which go along with fire ant control, please read the side note to the right.

Only Attack the Fire Ants

You want to be very careful to kill only the fire ants and not all of the ants or you will have a far worse fire ant problem in the near future. The indigenous ants are effective at slowing down the spread of the fire ant populations, first simply by their entrenched position, but secondly by reducing food supply. Please take the time to be sure that you are attacking ONLY the fire ants.

Avoid Commercial Baits When Possible

Many fire ant bait products affect other ants as well as birds and other creatures. Please be aware of this limitation and only use baits when other solutions do not exist. The good news is that there are, or soon will be, some new baits on the market which only affect fireants and not other species.

 

If Fire Ants Have Invaded Your Home!

If fire ants invade your house, it is easy to panic. What do you do?? We have had some input from our readers with suggestions for what to do if fire ants have come into your home under the doors or windowsills or through cracks in the wall or foundation.

Alcohol and Dish Soap

exterminators

This has worked for me in North Carolina inside my house:

  • 4 cups water
  • 4 cups alcohol
  • 2 cups liquid dish soap

Fill a spray bottle. Spray on ants. It kills ants instantly. Wipe clean with a damp cloth when ants are dead. Sometimes it has to be repeated, but it is non-toxic and easy.

Mary

Alcohol

Hi, thanks for your fire ant website, it was very helpful. I have swarms of fire ants in my apartment when I come home sometimes. I always soak a paper towel with rubbing alcohol to wipe them up because they get immobilized or anesthetized by it, and then they don't crawl on to my hand while I wipe them off the floor. If they are submerged in rubbing alcohol, the fire ants do die. At least the ones that live near me do.

One time they got into my laptop keyboard, so I soaked a few paper towels, not dripping but completely soaked, and I placed it over the keys to create a seal completely around it. After about 5-10 minutes, a few had come up and died trying to get out from under the paper towel. I figured they were trying to get away from the fumes, but I really can't know what exactly drew them out; all I know is that a few died along the edges of the seal. For some reason they love to swarm underneath my electronics, particularly the ones that are on all the time, so I think it is the warmth. I never tried rubbing alcohol on a mound, but I hope this helps other people. Thanks again!

Tanya

Clorox Bath Cleaner with Bleach

Only try this method if you have hardwood or linoleum floors. Use Clorox Bath Cleaner with Bleach in a spray bottle. Spray it directly on them and all around where they come inside the house. It is reported that they stop moving within seconds and are dead within minutes. When they are all taken care of, use a wet mop to get the bleach and dead ants off the floor.

Boric Acid

Once the ants inside the house are killed, you want to keep any new ones out or, at least, kill those that try to get in. Boric acid works well for this. Get the purest you can find. Ask your local pharmacist. It is not expensive.

Mix the boric acid with some powered sugar. Sprinkle it around the windows and doors and any place the ants could get inside like cracks in the foundation. As the ants eat the sugar, the boric acid scratches the oil off their coats and they will die. This works for roaches, too. Rain will, of course, wash it away. You will need to reapply it. If you are desperate, you could sprinkle it inside the house, too, by the windows and doors and along the outside walls.

Natural Baits

Place bait in corners, under cabinets and in closets. Some examples of baits would be:

  • Peanut butter and boric acid (15%) in a jar lid
  • Equal parts of borax and granulated sugar
  • A borax and corn syrup mixture

Be sure to frequently refill the mixture and keep it away from high temperatures, high humidity and intense sunlight. Baits can be rendered ineffective under these conditions.

Bait can also be spread around the nest in a circle. Spread it in a 1-3 foot circle, starting from the base of the mound. Spread it sparsely. If it is too concentrated, it will actually repel the ants.

Fire Ant Control

Dish Soap or Laundry Detergent

To keep the ants from getting inside in the first place, mix dish soap or laundry detergent in a bucket and pour around the foundation, on the window sills, and on any cracks in the foundation or walls. If it rains, this would have to be reapplied. This solution may also work if sprayed directly on them inside the house.

 

Please let us know your experience. Email us

 

Natural Fire Ant Control

If you don't want to go the natural way, see our information on commercial fire ant products.

Below you will find some nontoxic fire ant control methods. We can't vouch for how effective any of them are, but our readers have sent in some of these suggestions which they have found to work. It doesn't hurt to give them a try if you want to use a natural fire ant killer and avoid using chemicals.

We are always interested in hearing other methods of fire ant control. If you have a way you would like to share, please click to email us.

Splenda

Splenda’s molecular structure is similar to that of DDT. Sprinkle it around the mound. The ants love it. Once they eat it, sayonara! The whole mound will be gone. Read the experiences of two people using Splenda as an ant killer. One used it along with cinnamon to control the ants.

Club Soda

The use of club soda is controversial. We've heard from people who say it works, yet scientific research says it does not. See: Kill fire ants with club soda.

If you try it, pour 1-2 cups on the mound. The club soda is said to emit a gas which kills the queen. It takes about a week.

Nematodes

The tiny insect called a nematode lives in the ground. They sting and eat ants. You can purchase these, mix them with water, and spread them around infested areas. Put them out right after the last freeze. The ground should be wet to moist. Be sure not to use city water to mix them because the chlorine in it will kill them. They take about a week to work. They will also kill anything else which lives in the ground that is slow or in hibernation. Click to buy nematodes online.

Dish Soap or Laundry Detergent

Make lots of suds with dish soap or laundry detergent and pour it or splash it on the ants. It is reported to kill them in their tracks. It works on all ants. As mentioned above, if you have a problem with ants entering your house, you can pour it around the foundation and on the window sills.

Charcoal Embers

After barbequing, take the burning embers and put them on top of the mound. A reader has reported this worked. But we aren't sure if the ants were killed by being asphyxiated or if they just moved somewhere else. If you try this method, we would be interested to hear if the ants are permanently gone. Please email us with any comments.

Phorid Flies, A Fire Ant's Natural Predator

Phorid flies, a natural predator of fire ants, are not native to the United States but are slowly being introduced. The female phorid fly will fly in and inject an egg into the ant's body in a procedure something akin to stinging the fireant, and fly away in less than a second. The stunned ant appears to be disoriented by the experience, but soon appears to resume working. The injected egg develops in the thorax of the ant for 10 days or so, when the host ant dies and is piled onto the colony's garbage heap, called the midden. The larva then eats its way into the ant's head where it pupates in safety for the next 35 days, emerging from the midden and flying away.

One positive aspect of phorid flies is that they currently seem quite particular with regards to which ant species they will attack and even the size of ant they will attack. However, because the relationship is symbiotic, the use of phorids for population control seems somewhat limited. Regardless, at this time, there are not many phorid populations around and the importation process is appropriately slow.

Diatomaceous Earth

Diatomaceous Earth (DE) is made up of silicate shells of microscopic sea creatures called diatoms. The shell fragments contain millions of razor sharp edges, which from what we gather, disturb the waxy coating that retains moisture. What little information we have suggests that the diatomaceous earth can lead to dehydration in 12 to 24 hours and will be more successful when it is hotter and less humid.

The issue is that the ants detect the dirt and will attempt to avoid contact with the diatomaceous earth, so simply putting a ring of dust around a mound or pouring some down into the mound may not be completely effective by itself. In any case, we believe that combining diatomaceous earth with any of the other techniques listed here may aid in it's effectiveness.

Please contact us with any feedback you would like to share on the effectiveness of diatomaceous earth.

Garlic

Garlic Barrier is concentrated liquid garlic. Pour it right on the mounds and they are reported to leave immediately and not return. Read about Garlic Barrier.

Natural Baits

This fire ant remedy was mentioned above where we talk about what to do if fire ants have invaded your home. Natural bait can also be used around the mound.

Some examples of baits are:

  • Peanut butter and boric acid (15%) in a jar lid
  • Equal parts of borax and granulated sugar
  • A borax and corn syrup mixture

Spread the bait around the nest in a circle. Spread it in a 1-3 foot circle, starting from the base of the mound. Spread it sparsely. If it is too concentrated, it will actually repel the ants.

Dry Ice

Get a 3' piece of 5/8" re-bar. Use it to make a hole to the bottom of the mound. Insert a piece of dry ice into the hole and push it to the bottom with the re-bar. Dry ice is approximately  -110° F. The queen will be killed, along with most of the ants. When the queen dies, the ants die.

Please be careful to wear heavy work gloves to protect your hands from freezing.

Lye

An inexpensive, environmentally safe, natural fire ant killer is to melt ½ bar of lye soap in 5 gallons of water. Wear rubber gloves, protect your eyes and be careful handling the lye as it is highly caustic and can cause extreme burns. Pour this solution in a circle around the ant mound to prevent ants from escaping, then stir them up and drench them thoroughly. This will kill the ants instantly without polluting your garden or harming pets.

Boiling Water

Pouring boiling water on a colony has been recommended as a non-chemical solution to get rid of fireants. But if it does not kill the queen, it will not eliminate the colony.

To use boiling water as a method, start with a sunny, cool day, preferably in the spring or fall when the ants are most active. Pour about 3 gallons of truly boiling water slowly over the mound. Some ants can survive up to 14 days underwater, so the key word here is boiling. The ants die from being scorched, not drowned. But be careful not to scald yourself! Try to collapse as much of the mound as possible while pouring. The ants, their larvae, and their stored food are all scalded and dead within seconds.

Urine

We know this sounds gross, but it is reported to work. Human urine has been known to repel ants, probably all kinds of ants. Try pouring it on or around the mounds and see if they don't flee. (Leave an opening for them to run through!) It won't kill them, but they should move on. If you use it near vegetables, be careful not to get it on the plants.

Drowning Them

Although this is not completely effective, it may help when only one or two mounds are found. Simply dig up the colony and dump it into a five gallon bucket filled with hot soapy water and let it sit for 24 hours. The temperature of the water and soap will hopefully kill them. Caution: Disturbing the nest will cause the ants to swarm their invader. Take caution to prevent being stung.

This Was Used Successfully on Black Ants, Not Tested on Fire Ants

From Michigan:

I was reading about fire ant control on your website and saw the contact if we have any other control remedies. I live in Michigan so we don't see fire ants here, YET! We do have ant issues though and I found that denatured alcohol works great and within seconds the ants are dead. We had a huge infestation between driveway cracks and flower garden with fairly large openings into the several nests. One day I saw that several colonies were swarming and warring and I poured denatured alcohol over all of the swarms and a liberal amount into each hole. The ants died within seconds and we never saw any ants for the rest of the summer.

There was an interesting thing that happened several weeks later though, non-aggressive solitary bees took up home in all of the old ant holes and remained there for the rest of the season. Not sure what kind they are though.

Denatured alcohol is safe and evaporates within minutes and the poisonous methanol in it is oxidized within a few days therefore not polluting the ground. This worked for our black ants and maybe will work for fire ants as well. It might be a little more expensive than other remedies, though it may be much more quickly effective. Just thought I'd send in my 2 cents worth of info.

NOTE: If you try this method to kill fire ants, please email us your results.

Remove Their Scent Trails

Just before a rain, or in the early evening before the ants have gone underground for the night, dig up and scatter them. Fling them as far as you can, DOWNWIND. Their scent trails will be washed out by the rain or dew. Most of them will not find their way back. This may need to be repeated several times.

Grits or Cornmeal

There is a theory that fire ants will eat grits, the grits will swell up inside their stomach and then the ants will die. We have had users who say this works.

One person uses cheap corn meal bought at her local discount grocery store. She spreads it around and on the fire ant beds. The workers will carry it into the mound to the queen. When she eats it, it will swell up and kill her.

Another person said: "Try grits. A person at the San Antonio Zoo told me that is what they use. It is safe for all other animals but when the ants ingest it, it swells up inside and they can not get rid of it. They also can't eat anything else so basically they starve to death. We tried it at the Dallas Fort Worth Airport and it really works."

However, not everyone agrees that cor meal or grits works. Here is what one Florida resident found:

“I live in Florida and have just begun to get serious about trying to combat the fire ants that have conquered our property. I've never had luck with the chemical granules; they only make the ants move - and not very far away, I might add.

Also, over the last few years, I've become more environmentally conscious, so I've been researching some natural remedies. My first choice was cornmeal. I read that it expands inside the ants' stomachs and they basically explode...not true. I selected an ant mound and pulled up a chair and watched for thirty minutes. The ants simply moved the cornmeal granules away from and out of their mound. They never ate any, nor did they carry a single piece back to the colony. I tried this same method with two other mounds with the same exact results. Nothing.”

Scattering Method, Effective During the Winter

In the winter, wait for a sunny day when a cold front has just passed through. The afternoon temperatures should be in the 50s, but will drop below freezing that night.

It may worth while to clean and apply some talc or talcum powder to the shovel to make it more difficult for the ants to climb up the handle.

Wait until the late afternoon when the fire ant mounds are still in the sun, but will be in the shade in one or two hours. You'll find that the ants are all near the top of the mound in the soil which has been warmed by the sun.

Get a wheelbarrow full of soil and a long handled shovel. Dig up the mound down to about two feet or to where you run out of ants. Fling each shovel full down wind as far away as you can, into a shady area, if possible. (Be sure not to fling them upwind!) The mounds will be easy to dig up because the ants have loosened the soil. With the temperature in the 50s, the ants will be sluggish and less likely to sting you.

Use the soil from the wheel barrel to fill in the hole where the mound was. Pack down the soil as you fill it.

The ants in the shade are so sluggish they can hardly move. Any others which are able to make it back to the mound will not be able to get in because you have filled it with packed down soil. When the temperature drops below freezing that night, any ants left above ground will freeze.

One afternoon of hard work should eliminate most of the ant colonies. Any weakened ones which remain can be dealt with in the same manner on another winter day. It may take several cycles of scattering them to completely eliminate them.

Or you could combine this method with the dry ice method described above. Before filling in the hole with soil from your wheel barrel, put a piece of dry ice in it. Any ants that are left will be frozen.

How To Kill Fire Ants

Let Them Fight It Out Themselves

It seems that fire ants from different colonies do not get along. You can try putting this to your advantage by mixing up the ants from different mounds. Colonies can be eliminated, or at least, weakened, using this method. It should work, as long as the area you live in does not have multi-queen colonies. When there is only one queen, the fire ants are territorial and will fight invading ants.

Using a long handled shovel, take a shovel full from mound one and set it aside. Take a shovel full from mound two and place it where you removed the ants from mound one. Then take the ants you put aside and put them into mound two. If you have three colonies, you can do a three way mix. Watch what happens. You should see piles of dead ants in a few days.

VARIATION

A variation on this method takes advantage of the fact that fire ants will venture only 50 to 100 feet away from their colony. If you have a strong colony, take a shovel full from it and mix the ants with a weaker colony which is 150 feet or more away. If you have added an equal or greater number of invading ants, they will kill out the resident ants. The invading ants will not be able to find their way home and will die out.

BROODS OF WHITE BABY ANTS

With both of these methods, if you find a brood (white baby ants), scatter them onto a hot pavement or other hot exposed surface. They will quickly die before they are discovered and rescued or adopted by other fire ants.

KEEP AT IT

You will have to do this mixing of the colonies and scattering of the broods several times to entirely get rid of them. They may, at some point, decide to pack up and move elsewhere.

BALANCING ACT

What you are doing is a balancing act where you are mixing the colonies with the aim of weakening all of them. You may want to leave one strong colony. Then when the rest of them have been weakened, take shovelfulls from the strong one and mix them with the weakened ones to completely eliminate them. Of course, then you have one colony remaining. You can treat it with one of the other methods.

PRECAUTIONS

You don't want to get stung when you are mixing up these colonies. Watch out for the expanding ring of disturbed ants and don't stand there. Also, don't walk on the path of the shovelfulls of ants you have transported. Some may have fallen off the shovel. But once the colonies have been weakened, they are not as aggressive and do not do the mass stinging attacks which fire ants are known for.

AFTER THEY'RE GONE

Once you have gotten rid of the ants on your property, then all you have to do is watch for new, young colonies which appear in late summer or early fall. They look something like a pile of earthworm castings. But if you disturb the pile, a few ants will appear.

In this early stage, you can literally stomp them out of existence.

If you find a large colony which has moved in from a neighboring property, you can scatter is as described above. If it is not winter, they will at least be weakened and may relocate to a less hostile environment.

 

Help from the Government with Fire Ant Control

Some state governments have programs for fire ant control.

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