(fire ants)

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Fire Ant Biology

Fire Ant Sting    Identification    Choosing Ant Control Products 

Fire ants do not inflict pain by biting but they do have a sting that is somewhat similar to that of wasps and bees.  Fire ants hold on with their mouthparts and inject venom into skin through a smooth - not barbed - stinger.  As the ant holds on to its victim's skin (by biting the skin) it swings around in a circle, injecting its smooth stinger into the skin numerous times.
Another difference between the sting of the fireant and the sting of other insects lies in the substance injected by its stinger.  Wasps, bees, yellow jackets and other stinging insects deliver certain proteins into our skin that cause the painful, burning sensation associated with their stings.  The fireant sting, however, does not contain this type of material.  The venom of fireants contains alkaloids combined with relatively small amounts of protein.  This venom is very effective for killing insects and also kills certain fungi and bacteria.

Imported fire ants are 1/8 to 1/4 inch in length and are reddish brown to black.  They are social insects and live in colonies which may have up to 200,000 individuals.  Fire ant colonies are made up of a queen ant, winged males and females (virgin queens), workers, and brood (which is made up of ant eggs, larvae, and pupae).  The queen fire ant lives in a protected nest which may be several feet deep and can be several feet away from the visible mound or mounds.  There may be several satellite nests near the main nest and some nests may have more than one queen.  
ants usually have two flying swarms each year when winged males and females leave the colony for their reproductive flights.  This insures the spread and survival of the species.  Swarming usually occurs in late Spring and in Summer but can occur during any time of the year.  The number of swarms (and the number of swarmers) can depend on the size, strength and health of the colony as well as contributing conditions: abundance of food sources, rainfall, air and ground temperatures.  After mating the fertilized queen begins a new colony in the soil.  Not every mated queen is successful.  Flying ants (swarmers) have many enemies: birds, lizards, frogs and other bugs -- even other ants.
Over the last few decades, fireants have shown us that they can readily adapt to different weather patterns, locations and even complicated control measures targeting their extinction.  Past attempts at eliminating fireants from certain areas (with the use of massive pesticide treatments from ground and air) have done little to inhibit the tremendous march of these persistent pests.  Most of these programs actually helped the Fireant by wiping out other species of ants that competed with the Fireant for food!
There was a time when entomologists told us that only a few colonies of these biting pests could survive per acre.  It was believed that the different ant colonies would drive out all competing fireants for territory and food. We were also told that each colony would have only one viable queen.  You may know travel through the southeast United States and find dozens of colonies per acre.  Each colony may contain several viable queens and each colony may even share resources with its neighbors.  This social behavior resembles the satellites of other ant pests such as the white-footed ant, pharaoh ant and carpenter ant.
During a trip to the mountains of north Alabama during icy weather, the author noted conical shaped piles of dirt & clay (the soils indigenous to the region) that averaged 3 feet in height, less than a foot in diameter at the base, tapering to a dull point at its top.  When broken (during the middle of the day) these mounds were found to house thousands of worker fireants tending hundreds of ant larvae.  The ants were building mounds which obviously took advantage of the mid-day heat to help incubate and maintain the ant larvae of the colony!  When these same type of mounds were broken open for inspection at sundown, no sign of ant or ant larvae were to be found.  The ants had returned underground to avoid night time temperatures.  Their adaptation to the icy temperatures was a sight to see, but this adaptation is also their undoing: the method might work in northern Alabama and Tennessee but will not work in northern states, due to the frost line.  We might see imported fireants continue to migrate northward but do not expect them to become a major pest above Maryland.

Fireant Elimination Products

As mentioned in previous fireant elimination articles, there are three basic methods that can be used to control these pests as well as various pest control products to use with each method.  It should be pointed out that failure to use or combine these products correctly usually results in failure to eliminate the pest from specific areas or to curb their intrusion into areas.

Choosing Products for Fireant Control

Mound elimination is a term most people associate with treating an individual ant bed with some type of contact insecticide.  Treating individual mounds with a granular, liquid or powder product is discouraged unless accompanied with a broadcast treatment of the general area.  An excellent example of this procedure is what is called mound drench and area broadcast.  First each individual ant bed is thoroughly drenched with an insecticide solution.  Mound drenching gives a better, deeper kill of the colony structure and also leaves good residual activity against ants returning to the treated soil than the practice of merely covering each mound with a dry insecticide granule.  The next step is to give a good broadcast treatment of the entire area.  This technique kills many worker ants and helps to prevent them from moving to another spot in the area to establish new colonies.  Broadcast treatments also help cut down the chances that swarming ant reproductives will be successful  in establishing their new colonies in the treated area.

Baiting is a very popular method of fireant control.  By broadcasting a good, professional fireant bait over an area you are allowing the ants to do most of the work.  As foraging workers pick up your baited material they are not instantly killed.  Instead, these foraging fireants carry the particles back to the main colony where the bait is transferred through the nursery into the entire colony - including the chamber where the queens are kept for protection and egg laying.  Most fireant baits require 1 to 2 pounds of product per acre, when broadcasting the area.  These bait broadcast should be done in the spring and fall of the year for optimal control.  Baiting around individual mounds during the rest of the year is acceptable, as long as the general broadcast is done twice each year.  Avoid dumping piles of fireant bait on a mound, as this will probably stress the entire colony, causing them to merely relocate.

Choosing Products for Fireant Control        Fireant Control Kits 

Drench all existing mounds with Demon EC or Talstar concentrate.  At least one gallon of finished solution is required for fire ant mounds, 1/2 gallon for smaller ones.  A good rule of thumb is to use one gallon of solution per foot of diameter of mound.  For example, a huge mound that is three feet wide (at its base) would require three gallons of finished solution.  This ensures that you kill ants deep in the colony structure.  Keep pets and children away from treated areas until dry.

Broadcast entire area with Talstar granules.  Do not spot treat.  Broadcasting this professional granule ensures that all ants on the surface will contact your product.  After applying your granules, apply water to the treated area.  Water will help place the granules onto the surface of the soil, instead of allowing them to just rest on blades of grass.  Keep pets and children off of all treated areas until dry.  Talstar granules pose far less hazards to people, pets, wildlife and the environment than most granules on the market, but you must still follow good safety practices -- read and follow all label instructions.

This program may be implemented 1 to 3 times per year, varying with severity of ant infestation.

When treating mounds with any contact insecticide or professional bait, do not disturb mounds before treating.  If you do, the colony will immediately take the queen or queens to safety, either deep down in the mound or move them laterally to establish satellite mounds.  This stressing of the colony causes more problems than anyone can imagine.

Mound Drenching

Generally, it takes 1 to 2 gallons of mixed pesticide solution to drench a fire ant mound effectively.  A mid-morning drench treatment is best when the sun starts warming up the colony. There are many insecticides that may be used for mound drenching, but we have the seen the best results with the following active ingredients: Bifenthrin (Talstar liquid concentrate, Talstar granules,) Cypermethrin (Cynoff EC, Cynoff WP, Demon EC, Demon WP, Cypermethrin 4 ounce) or Permethrin (Permethrin Pro, Dragnet, Flee.) These materials are all in the synthetic pyrethrin class of chemicals. Synthetics are far more photostable than common organophosphates (Durban, Diazinon, Malathion, Acephate) which can lose their effectiveness in as little as three hours of sunlight. Mounds properly drenched with synthetic pesticides can kill returning or foraging ants for 30 days or more! As an added benefit, synthetic pyrethroids are safer for humans and domestic animals as well as the environment, when used as directed by the label. The best example is Talstar, whose molecules actually bond to soil particles. This means that the material stays where you apply it and does not leach out into undesirable locations.

Broadcast Treatment
Permethrin Pro and Talstar (liquid and granular) give the best long term control when broadcasting large areas with a hose-end sprayer.  Permethrin Pro calls for 1 ounce of concentrate per 1,000 square feet. Talstar uses only 1/8 to 1/4 ounce per thousand.  If granular pesticides are preferred, use Talstar Granules or DeltaGard granules.  Although it is used at very low rates, Talstar has given us the longest control; many customers state that no ants re-enter a treated area for as long as three months!

Baiting For Fire Ants

The use of professional ant baits is a very thorough method of control, slowly killing the entire colony. Baits work best when used in the spring and early summer. When the weather gets hot and dry, baits are generally ineffective for fire ant control.  However, fire ant baiting has two drawbacks: cost and length of control time. For instance, baiting an entire area will kill the existing ant colonies but will not always control new ant colonies invading from nearby areas that were not baited properly. Also, most people with fire ant problems live on very large lots -- 2 acres or better. This involves a great deal of bait at a premium price. 

The most successful baiting practice for fire ant control on turf is to use granular baits such as Ascend or Maxforce Granular (or Extinguish Fire Ant Bait when baiting graze lands) in the early spring followed by soil drenches 4 to 6 weeks later if needed. Broadcast granular bait applications are most effective; however, it may take 4 to 6 weeks to give control. Early spring application is ideal because it controls recently developed queens before they leave on their nuptial flights and establish new colonies. Killing the queens is the only way to eliminate fire ant colonies. Follow-up granular bait applications usually are necessary in mid-summer and another one in the fall.

Apply baits when the ground is dry and when ground temperatures are between 70 and 90 F with no forecast of rain. Apply baits around the base of mounds and also broadcast the entire areas where ants are seen foraging.. Baits are picked up by foraging ants looking for food. The ants take the bait back to the ant colony; it passes through the food chain and is fed to the queen ants. Granular bait recommendations are listed below.

In summer and fall, apply bait in the afternoon when temperatures are cooler because baits may rapidly degrade on hot, sunny days. By the time ants pick up the bait, the heat may have broken down the active ingredient, losing its effectiveness.

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