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Fire Ants, The Common Enemy

For decades, fire ants have been a nuisance in the Southeastern United States. Fire ants move from one location to another, people transport them when transport landscaping and agricultural equipment. Therefore, it is advisable to inspect all goods before transporting them. I believe that everyone has a fire ants’ experience or know of a fire ants’ story. One of my fire ants experience is; it was around 2 am I heard my two-year daughter cried out, I thought she was having a bad dream, so I went and lay beside her. Very quickly I felt something bit me, I turned on the light in the room and to my surprise her bed was covered with fire ants. The sad truth is that fire ants can be found both indoor and outdoor and can cause serious medical problem to some people who are affected by them. Fire ants found their way inside searching for food and moisture, especially during time of drought.

Fire ants are not all bad, they play a positive role in our landscape; they are predators of termites ticks, cockroach eggs, flea larvae, chinch bugs, and many other pests. However, the problem they cause is far more than their benefits. Fire Ant Management- I have heard it many times, that each time the ant mound is treated, they move to a new mound. The goal of fire ant control is not to eradicate the entire population but to suppress to an acceptable level where the ants will not become nuisance. Having a fire ant control program is the key. A good fire ant bait broadcast periodically will suppress ants about 90 percent, if properly applied. In many cases, re-application is necessary to kill the queen ant that was not killed with the first application. When using granular products that require watering, it best to water from the edge of the mound and then move toward the center.

Products that classify as pyrethroids and pyrethrin work fast and at the same time have residual effects which will provide long lasting control. Pyrethrins are botanical insecticides derived from chrysanthemum flowers while Pyrethroids are synthetic chemical insecticides that are modified from pyrethrins to increase their stability in sunlight. Some of these products active ingredients that are available on the market are Bifenthrin, Permethrin and Lambda-cyhalothrin. To decide if an active ingredient is pyrethrin, note that all pyrethrins ends with ‘thrin’. Always read the pesticide label before purchasing, using and disposing of a pesticide or its empty container. A granular insecticide with Fipronil as its active ingredient gives excellent control for fire ants, eliminate ant colonies slowly but have long residual effects. It may take between 4-10 weeks for total control.  As a caution, schools and other sensitive areas are encouraged to use less toxic pesticides on their properties. Botanical such as pyrethrins, microbial, or insect growth regulator insecticides are great choices to use on these facilities because of their extra high margin of safety.

For more information on fire ants and other horticulture topics, you can contact Grantly Ricketts with UF/IFAS extension in St. Lucie County at 772-462-2847 or email gricketts@ufl.edu