How to Get Rid of Fire Ants

Closeup of a worker fire ant, which looks ferocious.

You can put out a fire by dousing it with water. To get rid of fire ants, you need boiling water. And sometimes even that’s not enough to force these biting ants from your yard and home. Other methods include insecticides.

Fire ants have a bite that can kill small animals and cause severe, painful reactions in people. They also can cost you thousands of dollars if they get into your electrical system. Fire ants’ attraction to electrical wiring wreaks havoc in air conditioning systems and lawn mowers.

We’ve rounded up several control methods to prepare you for battle and help get rid of fire ants in your yard – before they make their way into your home.

What are Fire Ants?

Red fire ant on white background
Fire ant closeup / Pixabay /. Pexels

 

The red imported fire ant (RIFA) is an invasive species from South America which stowed away on a cargo ship and entered the U.S. in the 1930s.

These invasive pests have made their way across the Southern U.S., including Alabama, Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Puerto Rico, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia.

Fire ants are so aggressive and such a nuisance that the USDA has designated quarantined areas to help control their spread.

Identifying fire ants

Like the red ant, fire ants range from reddish-brown to reddish-black. But fire ants are much more aggressive. Disturb a fire ant mound, and you’ll see hundreds of them swarm out, ready to bite and defend their queen. The mounds are most noticeable after a heavy rain.

Locating fire ants

A sure-fire way (and painful way) to find fire ants is to walk near an infestation in your bare feet. A better idea is to wear heavy boots (the ants can get inside tennis shoes), and kick the ant mound. They’ll come scurrying out in no time. They build those mounds in lawns, pastures, parks, gardens and compost piles.

Colonies will often migrate from one anthill to another. As few as six imported fire ant workers can start a new colony several hundred feet away from the original site overnight. Floods can cause an entire colony to move to a new location. Since these pests like to hitchhike, it’s not uncommon for them to make their way inside your home.

How to Get Rid of Fire Ants Naturally

Pouring boiling water over a fire ant mound can be an effective treatment. This natural treatment works best when ant activity is near the mound’’s surface, usually in the early morning. But hot water is only effective on 60% of the mounds treated.

Keep in mind: Many home remedies won’t act as an adequate fire ant killer, but will instead encourage them to relocate and create new mounds. Many home remedies, such as gasoline, petroleum, or bleaches, are dangerous and will pollute the soil and nearby water.

How to Get Rid of Fire Ants Outdoors

Two-Step Method

To treat fire ant-infested lawns, schoolyards, parks, and athletic fields, apply a two-step method. This works best in areas with five or more mounds in each quarter-acre of the yard.

Step one includes performing a broadcast treatment of insecticide. The next step involves treating individual mounds with a mound drench, granule, bait, or dust insecticide.

Step One:

Between August and mid-October, scatter a bait-formulated insecticide as directed on the product label.

Most fire ant baits combine pesticide ingredients with soybean oil. The soybean oil attracts worker fire ants, who take the bait back to the colony and pass it along to the queen. The queen will either die or become infertile. Baits are slow-acting and require weeks or months to achieve maximum fire ant control.

This broadcast treatment is about 90% effective at getting rid of fire ants. The Texas A&M AgriLife Extension recommends Amdro, Siege, Logic, Award, Ascend, or Raid Fire Ant Killer.

For best results, use fresh bait from an unopened container and apply when the ground is dry, and no rain is in the forecast for the next 24 to 48 hours.

Repeat the fire ant bait application when ants re-invade the area or mound numbers reach about 20 to 30 per acre.

Step Two:

Several days after applying the bait, spot-treat any colony mounds with insecticide dust, granular insecticide, or liquid mound drenches.

Fire ants in the garden

Fire ants in the garden are one more pest you have to worry about stinging your hand when pulling weeds.

Shovel ant mounds out of the garden or pour boiling water over them. Make sure no hot water comes in contact with your plants.

Few products are registered for treating ants in vegetable gardens. Products approved for garden use contain carbaryl, pyrethrins, pyrethrins plus diatomaceous earth, or rotenone. Do NOT use insecticides not registered for the garden, as they may come in contact with vegetables you’ll soon have for your afternoon salad.

While you can’t apply bait products inside the garden, you can use them outside the perimeter of the garden. Foraging ants from inside and outside the garden will collect the bait and take it to their colony. They’ll pass the bait along as food to the queen.

Fire ants by the water

Fire ants need water to survive, so you may often find them near streams, rivers, ponds, or other bodies of water.

When treating these mounds, it is necessary to avoid contaminating the water with pesticides. Never apply the insecticide directly into the water, and avoid using the treatment on streamlines as runoff may cause the pesticide to enter the water.

Instead of applying the treatment near the water, apply baits in areas where ants forage (away from the water) and apply them when ants are most active.

If applying individual mound treatments, the University of Georgia Extension recommends using products with low toxicity to fish, such as acephate (Orthene). Pyrethrins and rotenone products are highly toxic to fish and should not be used near water.

Fire ants in the neighborhood

If your neighborhood is also home to fire ant mounds, you may want to consider coordinating a treatment plan with your community. Reach out to your homeowners association or county government to put in place a collective treatment plan.

Fire ants near electrical equipment

Fire ants often infest electrical equipment, chewing on insulation and causing short circuits or other mechanical problems. Never treat your electrical equipment for fire ants, as you may suffer from electrical shock or cause further damage.

Only a trained electrician or pest control professional should handle fire ants near electrical equipment.

How to Get Rid of Fire Ants Indoors

During the hot, dry, summer months, fire ant colonies may close in on homes and buildings to forage food and water. With the right control and prevention methods, you can help deter these fire ants from entering your home, feasting on your food, and, most importantly, your body.

Entire fire ant colonies can nest in wall voids or behind large appliances. When indoors, they pose a potential threat to your pets and sleeping or bed-ridden family members.

Insecticides

When using an insecticide, make sure it’s labeled for use indoors and is registered to control fire ants.

Follow the trail

Sometimes foraging ants may lead you to the indoor colony. Follow foraging ants and treat their ant nest with contact insecticide sprays or dusts containing bendiocarb, chlorpyrifos, and pyrethroids.

When to Call a Pest Control Professional

It’s never too soon to call a pest control professional to get rid of fire ants, especially if they’ve made it inside your home. A professional exterminator can help execute control methods or put into practice preventative measures.

Note that some insecticides are for commercial use only, and the professionals have the training to use them safely.

How to keep fire ants away from your home

Protective barrier

Some insecticides can be used around your home’s outdoor perimeter to create a protective barrier that keeps fire ants outside.

Caulking

Prevent fire ants from sneaking in through cracks and crevices by caulking any small openings.

Apply insecticides regularly

Ant populations can return with full force within one year of the last bait treatment, so make sure to apply bait-formulated insecticides once or twice per year to the entire yard.

Frequently Asked Questions about Fire Ants

1. Will Dawn kill fire ants?

Soap solutions remove the protective coating from the fire ants and suffocate them. But this method isn’t as effective on fire ants as with pests like aphids.

The best way to control a fire ant colony is to kill the queen. A soapy solution will not kill the whole colony, but may just force the colony to move to another part of your yard.

2. Will citrus oil kill fire ants?

Some solutions containing citrus oil may be useful as mound drench treatments. Citrus oil contains a natural extract of citrus peels (d-limonene) that is toxic to fire ants.

3. Does salt kill fire ants?

Salt home remedies are intended to dehydrate the ant colony. But like dish soap, salt will not kill the whole colony and does not directly target the queen. Salt can also cause significant damage to the surrounding vegetation.

4. Does bleach kill fire ants?

Home remedies are often perceived as being safe, but gasoline or diesel oil, chlorine bleach, ammonia, drain cleaners, and acids are dangerous to pets, children, plants and livestock.

Runoff from these products also can contaminate water. It is illegal to use any of these substances, including bleach, to control pests.

5. How to get rid of fire ants in mulch?

Fire ants invade mulched flower beds for warmth and moisture. Sometimes a colony infesting your mulched areas can be challenging to locate. Treat the area with a fast-acting bait product containing hydramethylnon, abamectin, or spinosad.

6. What to do if you are bitten by fire ants

Fire ant bites will often heal on their own. But If itching or swelling occurs, try the following remedies:

  • Apply a cold compress on the affected area (15 minutes on, 15 minutes off).
  • Raise the part of the body where you the fire ant bit you to reduce swelling.
  • Use hydrocortisone cream or an antihistamine to relieve pain and itching.

See a doctor right away if a fire ant’s bite triggers symptoms of a severe allergic reaction, such as chest pain, nausea, severe sweating, loss of breath, serious swelling, slurred speech, hives, diarrhea, swelling in tongue or throat, or dizziness.

Main Image Credit: Closeup of a worker fire ant / skeeze / Pixabay

Jane Purnell

Jane Purnell

Jane Purnell is a freelance writer and actor in New York City. She earned her B.A. from the University of Virginia and enjoys a warm cup of French press coffee.