Tackle Fire Ants in the Fall

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I had a phone call a couple of days ago from a woman asking why all the fire ants have disappeared. I was quick to say that they’ve just gone deep into the ground to get away from the heat and to find some moisture.

Some fancy terms that I heard some years ago about fire ants is that they are “thermo-regulatory“ and “hydro-regulatory”. Indeed, they will often seem to go away when they are just deeper in the ground looking for moisture and more moderate temperatures

But all most folks really want to know about fire ants is how to get rid of them!

Every year we do our best to get rid of them. And each year, we tend to be frustrated.

Fire ants are native to South America. They entered the U.S. through Mobile, Alabama, probably in soil used for ships’ ballasts. They were accidentally introduced around the 1930’s and have been spreading since.

Red imported fire ants are very aggressive, efficient competitors. Since the 1950’s in Texas, the ant has been spreading north, west and south. They now infest the eastern two-thirds of the state, and most every urban area in west Texas. While the bad news is that they are a permanent problem, the good news is that, with relatively little cost and effort, you can prevent most of the problems they cause using currently available methods.

This fall is an ideal time to apply fire ant bait to your lawn. Ants are still foraging so you can apply bait when no rain is expected for several days after treatment. Baits are slow-acting, taking weeks to months to reduce ant mound numbers. Unlike a mound treatment that is supposed to work quickly on each mound you find, baits can be taken back to work on lots of mounds – even those you cannot see. Their work is conducted underground, all winter long, slowly but surely reducing their numbers.

The concept is that a good bait treatment at this time of the year, will yield excellent results come next spring. Consider the satisfaction in knowing that baits gathered and stored by fire ants in the fall will kill off fire ants all winter long.

To maximize your effectiveness, work with neighbors to apply bait. Since fire ants travel from yard to yard, team up with your neighbors to implement fire ant control programs at the same time. Decide what control method to use and find a weekend to get it out.

Use according to the label. There is a wealth of good information contained in the tiny print on the back of the package. Closely follow label directions. Today’s baits are gentle on the environment and are best applied using crank-type seeders or spreaders.

By starting your fire ant control program in the fall and following a regular maintenance schedule thereafter in the spring, you’ll see far fewer ants even when it is not hot and dry.

Author

Cary Sims
Cary Sims
Cary Sims is the County Extension Agent for agriculture and natural resources for Angelina County. His email address is cw-sims@tamu.edu

Educational programs of the Texas AgriLife Extension Service are open to all people without regard to race, color, sex, disability, religion, age, or national origin.
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