Fire ants are active and ready to bite
TRACY HODGESummer in Central Florida is best known for soaring temperatures and afternoon rainstorms. However, there is another thing that is sure to come along with summer in and around this area — fire ants.
Published: June 20, 2012
Published: June 20, 2012
These aggressive ants deliver a painful sting that can result in intense itching and secondary infections. Some people have life-threatening allergic reactions after being bitten by these feisty insects.
While ants are always plentiful in our area, fire ants seem to be more abundant than usual for this time of year. The managers at Sun State Landscaping in Palmetto say fire ants are on the move right now and that homeowners should take care when working in their yards or gardens to avoid being bitten and the complications that could go along with bites.
According to the University of Florida IFAS Extension, imported fire ants are the most common to Central Florida. These ants are black or rusty brown in color and typically measure one-eighth to one-quarter inch in length.
The two species of imported fire ants common to our area are the red imported fire ant and the black imported fire ant. These ants were brought to the United States with cargo unloaded in Alabama. Since the 1940s these ants have spread to Florida and other Southern states such as Georgia, Louisiana, Arkansas, North Carolina, South Carolina and others.
It is estimated that imported fire ants infest over 200 million acres in the southern United States. Since we receive over 10 inches of rainfall each year and commonly use irrigation to water our lawn grass, imported fire ants are common in and around Central Florida, as these insects like soil that is excessively moist.
Disturbing the soil in our gardens when planting will also encourage fire ants to take up residence. Preventing fire ants can be difficult, as these insects also typically infest dry soil that is bare from the effects of drought.
To determine if you may have a fire ant infestation, take a minute to look around your lawn. Fire ants construct mounds in open pastures, sunny parts of your lawn and in cultivated fields. They may also build nests around tree stumps and rotting wood.
Occasionally, fire ants will build nests underneath pavement or buildings, which can be problematic for homeowners. Once a fire ant nest is disturbed, these insects come out in vast numbers to sting any foreign intruder in their path. Children, livestock and domestic pets are at an increased risk of being bitten by these pests.
The damage doesn't end there, as fire ants can also feed on young seedlings and trees, causing extensive damage. Fire ants will forage for food when temperatures fall between 70 and 90 degrees. These ants are active feeders during both day and nighttime hours.
There are no sure ways to eliminate fire ants once they become established in your yard or garden. To eliminate an entire fire ant colony, the queen must die and cease egg production. Some fire ant colonies have multiple queens, which makes control especially difficult. Bait applications can deliver insecticides to large numbers of ants and may be an effective means of control.
These products use insecticides dissolved in a food source for fire ants such as soybean oil. Once fire ants ingest these slow-acting insecticides, they deliver it to numerous other ants in the colony before they are killed. Once the insecticide reaches the queen, she fails to produce more worker ants or dies, and the entire colony is wiped out.
Insecticides are also available to treat individual ant mounds. While this method can be time consuming, it can deliver insecticides directly to fire ants. This method often provides control faster than with bait applications. Individual mound treatments can be delivered through granules or drenches.
These products work best when applied to fire ant mounds on sunny mornings when temperatures are at their lowest for the day. Those interested in using a more natural means of control may use scalding water to kill fire ants. To kill ants the water must reach at least 212 degrees and should be poured slowly over the mounds. However, the hot water method can injure your landscape plants, so it should not be used in areas of your yard that are heavily landscaped.
Taking a minute to look around your yard for signs of fire ant infestations may help reduce injuries to your children and pets as they venture outside. If you have heavy fire ant infestations, it may be necessary to hire a professional exterminator who has experience in dealing with fire ants in our area.