Red Imported Fire Ants
Personal Perception of Fire Ants Impacts Management Decisions
• Biological Control •
• Business and
Turf and Ornamental
Based on insect control technologies that are available today, there is
a general agreement that eradicating (killing all RIFA) is NOT possible.
The ants rapid reproduction, the large areas infested, and difficulty in
treating ALL mounds make the red imported fire ant impossible to
eliminate. The Goal of any Management Practice Should be to Minimuze the
Impact of RIFA on People and Property.
Perception of the Red Imported Fire Ants
An individual's perspective of the red imported fire ant impacts
his/her decision on whether or not to control this pest. It also impacts
the methods of control selected.
Residents in Mobile, Alabama have been living with the red imported
fire ant for over 50 years. They have educated themselves on the
effective control measures available and have learned to live with the
ant's presence. However, in other states that have only recently become
infested by the ant, people only have the recollection of the
eradication programs in place during the 60's and 70's. The arrival of
this pest is perceived equal to a swarm of locust. Reports of
individuals using gasoline, instant grits, and detergent are common
occurrences. EDUCATION is the key to helping people choose effective
controls. As people become more educated about fire ants, often their
perceptions change, and the control measures they select change also.
Control option for the red imported fire ant
Many people choose not to control fire ants. Cost of the controls available
is the primary factor, however, it may also be a lack of commitment to a control
program. Once a control plan is implemented --- it must be continued. If a
control program is initiated, but not continued, often fire ant numbers will
increase. Most of the control products available do not remain in the
environment for a long period of time. Therefore, if controls aren't used
periodically the area will just be reinfested with fire ants. "New" colonies can
be started by "new" queens from March to October -- weather conditions and other
biological factors are involved. Remember, there is no one time, one shot method
of controlling this pest.
Over 30 species of natural fire ant enemies have been identified in
RIFA's native home in South America. Interest in the use of natural
enemies of the red imported fire ant has increased throughout the years
RIFA has been present in the United States.
The genus Pseudacteon has 18 species of flies that parasitize RIFA.
Currently there is research being done on individual species in Florida
and Texas. They are showing a great deal of promise in that they are
species specific, and broadly distributed in various environments. Their
presence alone has been found to impact the behavior of RIFA.
A non-chemical control available to everyone, but perhaps more suited for
the homeowner is the use of hot water. Research has found that
approximately 2 -3 gallons of hot water will eliminate 6 out of every 10
mounds. The time in which you use this treatment option is extremely
important --- in that you want to maximize the number of ants killed by
the hot water. Therefore, using this treatment option on a cool, sunny
morning would be more effective in that the brood, the queen, and worker
ants would be up in the mound where the soil is warmer.
- Remember insects are greatly influenced by temperature. Fire ants
have been found to be most active when temperatures are between 65 F and
- Care in transporting the hot material to the mound is the most hazardous
aspect of using this control option.
Program 1 - The two-step method
Step 1. an annual or semi-annual broadcast of a bait
insecticide such as Amdro (hydramethylon), Combat (hydramethylon), Logic
(fenoxycarb), or Raid (abamectin)
Remember insects are greatly influenced by temperature. Fire ants have
been found to be most active when temperatures are between 65 F and 95
F. Therefore, putting the bait material out when the temperatures are
between 65 F and 95 F will be more effective.
Step 2. treatment of individual mounds using a contact
insecticide such as Orthene (acephate), Dursban (chloropyrifos), Ortho
Ant Stop (acephate), DeltaDust (deltamethrin)
Using this treatment option on a cool, sunny morning would be more
effective in that the brood, the queen, and worker ants would be up
in the mound where the soil is warmer.
Program 2 - Individual Mound Treatment using a bait or contact
insecticide on a mound to mound basis as the mounds appear. (same
materials and mentioned above)
Remember to always read and
follow the label instructions of any pesticide you are planning to use
Business and Industry
Electrical equipment and utility housings are attractive to fire ants.
Air conditioners, traffic boxes, and other devices can be damaged. The
ants often use electrical and utility housing units as nesting sites.
Ants move soil into these units, and chew on insulation and other soft
materials. They build up in high numbers around contact points and can
cause short circuits.
The attraction is induced only when the ants touch both bare contacts.
After contact, the electrical current flows through the ants bodies. The
release of chemical cues by ants coming into contact with current excite
and attract other ants. Research has also found that RIFA responds to
fluctuating frequency greater than static electricity.
Lab research has found that sheathing circuit contacts negates the ants
response (research conducted with a 197 volt electric field).
Recommendations around electrical equipment include:
- DO NOT use liquid drenches or products that could damage the
- Treat mounds on an individual basis using appropriate products, dust
or granules. Hydramethylnon baits will provide control in 1 week.
- Injectible aerosol products containing pyrethrins give immediate control
- INSIDE equipment housing can be treated also --- with products labeled
for such use. For example, Rainbow Insect Control containing chlorpyrifos,
or Ascend with diclorvos.
Turf and Ornamental Options
The red imported fire ant causes damage to turfgrass due to its
extensive mound building and the tunnels which extend from these mounds.
The mounds can shade and kill turfgrasses. Lawnmowers can be damaged
when the mower blade comes in contact with the mound.
Commercial Sod Producer
Sod shipping within the quarantined area may use any of the products
labeled for fire ant control.
Sod shipping outside of the quarantined
- A compliance agreement and required shipping permits MUST be
obtained from the appropriate state regulatory agency
- The status of labeled or approved insecticides for use in quarantine
situations is changing. Consult you state department of agriculture or USDA,
APHIS, PPQ Inspector for current recommendations on treating turf
High Maintenance Lawns (golf courses etc.)
A program of broadcasting a bait product on a seasonal basis, and the
application every 6 to 8 weeks of a contact insecticide will eliminate
all ants in the areas treated.
A program of broadcasting baits on a seasonal basis is recommended in
areas where there are more than 20 mounds / acre. After broadcast of the
baits, a treatment with a contact insecticide such as Orthene or Dursban
is recommended. If there are fewer than 20 mounds / acre, and you want
to preserve native ants -- it is recommended that a mound to mound
treatment of a contact insecticide be used.
When purchasing materials from a nursery in a fire ant infested state,
check to see if they are a fire ant free nursery, and if not, what practices
they use to minimize the presence of this pest on their property. Check the
material yourself when purchasing -- be proactive about controlling fire ants.
The movement of queen and colonies in sod and nursery stock was
recognized early in the study of RIFA as a factor in its expansion
throughout the south. In 1958 a federal quarantine was initiated to
limit the movement of various materials outside of the quarantine area.
The quarantine is in place today throughout much of the south. Nurseries
that are selling materials outside of the quarantine have to meet
specific criteria before they can obtain certification to move the
In order to comply with rules under the Fire Ant Free Nursery program
within the federal quarantine, commercial nurseries have to meet certain
criteria. If a nursery wants to be in the program, it must periodically
broadcast a labeled fire ant bait within the confines of the growing
Certification of containerized plants through incorporation of granular
or dust formulations of an insecticide into the media by immersion or
drenching are standard practices in nurseries wanting to sell nursery
stock outside of the quarantine. The products labeled for use within the
nursery situation are:
Losses to cattlemen due to the impact fire ants have on their operation
is currently under study. Economic losses in hay production, injury to
cattle, and injury to cattlemen are just three of the areas RIFA impacts
cattle production However, treatment decisions must be made by each
producer. Losses depend greatly on the size and character of mounds and
the pasture situation.
Chemical control of Pastures
Broadcast applications of bait
materials cost roughly $10.00 or more per acre per year and MAY NOT provide a
return on the investment.
- Use products registered for use on pastures -- broadcast application
of hydramethylnon (Amdro) and individual mound treatments with a
registered contact insecticide product.
- Where feasible, and particularly if summer calving is the common
practice in your areas , designate a calving pasture and treat it as
described above ---this ensures that calving can occur without the threat of
fire ant attacks.
Non-Chemical Control of Pastures
These suggestions can reduce various problems caused by fire ants while
maintaining a stable ant population. When stable populations are
maintained, they help suppress lone star ticks, filth breeding flies,
and other pests. Use a combination of the following suggestions:
- Schedule the cow fertility program to ensure that calving occurs
during cold weather when fire ants are less active (soil temperatures
below 65 F). This reduced the probability of ants being present during
- Use shallow disking or drag heavy objects such as railroad ties across
pastures to temporarily flatten tall, hardened mounds. Although this
practice will seldom eliminate fire ants it can suppress their numbers.
- In harvesting/cutting pastures use disc-type (Kountz) cutters. Their
design can withstand the impact of fire ant mounds, and thus reduce
- Remove hay bales from the field immediately after baling to prevent ants
from invading. This is especially important if rain is anticipated.
- Store bales off the ground or in an area around which the ants have been
Poultry Producers Options
Generally RIFA builds mounds outside poultry houses and forage on dead
birds inside the house. Workers picking up dead birds are often stung by
Use a combination of the following suggestions:
- Remove food sources (trash, piled feed, broken eggs, and dead
chickens) and nesting sites (pieces of lumber, old equipment, and manure
- Remove weeds and grass from around poultry houses with mowers or
- If ants are nesting inside the house, treat litter with a registered
product (carbaryl and others). Do not allow insecticides to come into
contact with feed or water supplies; read the poultry section of the label.
- If picking up dead birds, use gloves coated with talc, it should
decrease the number of ants moving onto the hand.
- If fire ants are foraging INSIDE the poultry house from outside, spray a
barrier around the outside of the building with chlorpyrifos (Dursban) or
diazinon (Diazinon), and /or use baits (hydramethylnon Amdro),
fenoxycarb(Logic), avermectin (Ascend)) or other labeled contact
insecticides around the perimeter areas of the house(s). Do not allows
chickens access to fire ant bait or bait-treated areas.
Producers should ALWAYS check with their
Complex Manager prior to the use of any product recommended ---- Complex
rules of pesticide use vary with production company.
Fire ants are a threat to fish pond owners due to their ability to
short circuit electric aeration equipment and wells. Fire ants on
commercial fish ponds may also cause problems for personnel working
around the water's edge. Checking oxygen and seining fish is not fun;
the presence of fire ants make it even less fun.
There is not evidence that fire ants impact fish populations or
commercial fish production directly. However, fire ants can be toxic to
fish if directly ingested. When a colony of fire ants gets washed into a
pond or stream, the ants generally cling together to form a floating
ball of ants. These occurrences are rare and are NOT considered a major
Recreational fish pond owners are impacted due to the inability to fish
from the pond bank due to fire ant presence. Fire ants have been known
to build nests in docked boats.
A specific treatment program for land surrounding fish ponds has not
yet been described. However, a program for long-term ant suppression
similar to those outlined in pastures and rangelands appears to be the
- A semi-annual broadcast in the spring and fall of a bait product
such as fenoxycarb (Logic) or hydramethylnon (Amdro)
- Several days after bait application, application of a contact
insecticide around electrical aeration equipment, wells, and locations where
When treating around fish ponds, extreme caution should always be
exercised to follow label instructions, and to ensure that insecticides
are kept away from the water.
Certain forms of wildlife are especially affected by ants during and
soon after birth or hatching. The risk is greatest during the warm
months. Fawns are vulnerable because they are born in June and because
they instinctively remain motionless in their hiding places. Hatching
quail and ground-nesting waterfowl chicks are also attacked. The impact
of RIFA on area wide populations of wildlife remain undocumented.
Detailed investigations are underway in fire ant infested areas.
Determining the impact of RIFA on an ecosystem may find that the results
are species and site specific.
Fire ant control programs in wildlife areas are discouraged UNLESS the
benefits from such treatments have been documented. Many pesticides are
toxic to non-target organisms (particularly to aquatic organisms) and
may directly or indirectly affect game species if not used properly.
- Wildlife breeding areas are considered non-agricultural lands, and
thus can be treated with products registered for this kind of site, i.e.
hyramethylon (Amdro), fenoxycarb (Award), acephate (Orthene),
- Exotic game ranches are considered commercial agriculture areas. Treat
breeding areas as described on the label.
|Treatments using a broadcast bait application is discouraged in
areas with less than 20 mounds /acre based on concerns for
non-target ants. A retreatment threshold of 20-30 mounds /acre
The information given herein is for educational purposes only.
Reference to commercial products or trade names is made with the
understanding that no discrimination is intended. The University of
Arkansas Division of Agriculture Cooperative Extension Service does not
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