Fire ants are pests that you wouldn’t want to be in your property.
They destroy gardens, lawns, electrical wirings, and crops among others.
Fire ants are also aggressive and will sting anyone who touches their nest.
In this article, we’ll go over everything you need to know how to get rid of fire ants.
Before you start treatment, make sure the ants you see at home are Fire ants.
Different ants behave differently so it’s important that you know exactly what’s infesting your home.
There are a few ways you can identify an ant species: appearance, nest location, behavior, and diet.
What Do Fire Ants Look Like?
The US is home to several different fire ant such as the Red Imported Fire Ant, Black Imported Fire Ant, and the Southern Fire Ant.
But the ones that’s most destructive are the Red Imported Fire Ants.
Red Imported Fire Ants are native to South America. They were introduced to the US after they landed on a ship in Mobile, Alabama, in the 1930.
Today Red Imported Fire Ants are found in many states including Texas, Florida, California,Nevada, Alabama, Louisiana, North and South Carolina, New Mexico, Tennessee, and Arizona.
Red Imported Fire Ant (RIFA)
Fire ants have dark red bodies.
Their bodies grow between 1/8″-1/4″ in length. They have two nodes and a shiny red thorax.
They also have a circle of hair on the tip of their abdomen.
One feature that makes Red Imported Fire Ants unique from other fire ants is their clypeal teeth.
The red imported fire ant has 3 clypeal teeth.
|Red Imported Fire Ant (RIFA) Identification|
|Size: 1/8″ – 1/4″||Antenna: Bent||Color: Reddish Brown to Reddish Black|
|Pattern: Circular Hairs On Abdomen||Nodes: Two||Shape: Segmented|
|Region: Coastal U.S States From Fl to WA||Food: Protein, Sweets, Grease||Nest: Surface Level Mounds in Soil|
Black Imported Fire Ant (BIFA)
The Black Imported Fire Ant (BIFA) is very similar to the Red Imported Fire Ant (RIFA).
They are between 1/8″ and 1/4″ in length and have two nodes, just like RIFA.
The main difference between the RIFA and BIFA is their color.
The Black Imported Fire Ant is dark brown or black.
|Black Imported Fire Ant (BIFA) Identification|
|Size: 1/8″ – 1/4″||Antenna: Bent||Color: Dark Brown To Black|
|Pattern: Circular Hairs On Abdomen||Nodes: Two||Shape: Segmented|
|Region: Southeast, North East, and South West U.S||Food: Protein, Sweets, Grease||Nest: Surface Level Mounds in Soil|
Southern Fire Ant
The Southern Fire ants have two common appearances.
The first is with a yellowish-red head and thorax with a dark abdomen.
They can also be fully one color.
This ranges from a light orangish-red to a dark brownish-red.
|Southern Fire Ant Identification|
|Size: 1/8″ – 1/4″||Antenna: Bent||Color: Yellowish-Red to Brownish-Red|
|Pattern: Circular Hairs On Abdomen||Nodes: Two||Shape: Segmented|
|Region: Across the West U.S (North, South, Mid)||Food: Protein, Sweets||Nest: Flattened Surface Level Mounds in Soil|
What Do Fire Ants Eat?
Fire ants are omnivores. They eat both plants and meat.
All fire ants eat primarily the same diet with small differences in the proportion.
They prefer protein-rich foods year-round, but it is especially high during the spring and fall.
During the harsher weather of summer and winter, fire ants will seek food high in sugar.
During these stressful conditions, ants will conserve their energy and eat high sugar foods to extend their energy levels.
These ants are also attracted to honeydew, plants, seeds, nuts, fruits, grass, grease, lard, and oils.
They will forage for food more than one hundred feet from their nest during both the day and the night.
Where Do Fire Ants Live?
Red Imported Fire ants and Black Imported Fire Ants live in dome-like soil mounds.
Southern Fire Ants, on the other hand, do not build dome like mounds.
They build flattened mounds typically characterized by a wide patch of lifted soil.
You’ll find these mounds anywhere there is soil, including fields, yards, golf courses, lawns, parks.
These mounds can grow up to 20 inches tall and 25 inches wide and are typically visible at surface level.
The nests extend underground and can be as deep as six feet.
You can find fire ants in Across the U.S from the West, Mid West, to the North East.
States with the heaviest infestations include Florida to Texas, Oklahoma, Arizona, New Mexico, Virginia, Arkansas, Tennessee and California.
How Do Fire Ants Behave?
All fire ants are characterized as aggressive and territorial.
Among all the fire ants in the US, the Red Imported Fire Ant is the most aggressive when its nest is disturbed.
These fire ants will attack anyone unfortunate enough to touch their mound or food source.
Southern Fire Ants are less aggressive and they have less painful stings than Imported Fire Ants.
Doing a thorough inspection is a vital step in ant treatment.
Inspections will help you identify the type of ant you have, as well as find where they live and travel.
Inspect your property for any ant mounds. Check your turf grasses, landscaping and gardens for large piles of dirt on the ground.
Fire ant mounds are typically visible on the surface of soil making them much easier to find than other species of ants.
If you disturb the mounds and red ants come into the surface and attack you, it’s likely that you have a Red Imported Fire Ant.
Also, inspect for any ant trails inside and outside your home.
Once you find a trail, follow it back to find the mound
Places to inspect inside your home:
- Potted plants
- Near or Around Dog Food
- Cracks in foundation (typically where the wall meets the floor)
- Near Pipes (where pipes enter houses there are holes that can provide access to soil)
- Inside walls
- Cracks in floor that offer direct access to foundation
- Near Food or Water Sources
Places to inspect outside your home:
- Near soil
- Cracks in between pavement
- Around Trees, Plants, and Bushes (Provides a good mixture of shade, sun, and moisture)
- Under or around Mulch
If you find ants outside, be sure they are the same ant infesting inside your home.
One way to check is to capture one ant from each trail and place them in a container.
If the ants are not from the same colony, they will fight each other.
If they are from a different colony the should also look different.
It quite common to have two different types of ants around your house.
Do not kill the ants you see.
You want to use this time to prepare your attack.
3. Use Pre-Baiting
In some cases identifying ant trails is easy, while in others, it can be hard.
To make this easy, I recommend pre-baiting.
Pre-baiting means placing non-toxic bait to see which one interests the ants the most.
Fire ants eat sweets, grease and protein.
Since fire ants typically forage for protein all year long a protein based bait typically works.
You should also try a sugar based bait, in the event that fire ants are trying to stockpile energy for summer or winter.
Great protein pre-bait options for fire ants are dog food, spam, or peanut butter.
For a sugar base pre-bait you can use a 50 x 50 blend of honey and water.
Place the pre-baits where fire ants are known to live and travel.
Indoors you can place them anywhere you might have seen an ant trail in the past such as in your kitchen, bathroom, or living room.
One of the best ways to keep track of where you are placing the pre-bait is using wax paper.
If you have refillable bait stations you can use these when placing your pre-bait outdoors.
When placing pre-bait outdoors you can place the pre-bait near any active ant-trails, or one on each side of your home.
4. Use Baits Indoors and Outdoors
If you positively identify fire ants, then the best way to eliminate them is by using ant baits.
Baits are slow-acting and allow ants to take it back to the nest and feed it to the colony.
Spraying insecticide directly on ant trails will only kill the ants on the trails.
The source of the problem remains, and the queen ant will continue producing more ants.
Treating fire ant mounds can be effective; there are a few things that can limit effectiveness.
Fire ants can build multiple mounds; if all of the mounds are not treated, the colony will continue growing.
The second thing is the ability to penetrate the soil and reach the fire ants.
Dry soil or deep nests may not be eliminated by directly treating the mound.
Outdoor Ants Bait
If you have fire ants in your yard, this can pose a threat to your family, pets, livestock, and visitors.
There are two methods of baiting fire ants outdoors.
- Localized Bait Stations
- Broadcast Bait Application
The first option is using localized bait stations around the perimeter of your home.
I recommend using refillable bait stations because you can continue refilling them to keep fire ants out of your yeard for as long as possible.
Broadcasting bait involves applying bait granules around the entire perimeter of your home.
The best way to do this is by using a granular spreader.
This will allow you to spread granular evenly across your yard.
These baits have an insecticide embedded inside.
The ants will return the bait to the colony and will begin eating it, spreading the insecticide to the entire colony.
Granular baits are useful if you have many mounds around your home or yard.
This will allow you to spread granular bait across your entire yard to ensure every mound quickly finds the bait.
The second option for outdoor fire ant bait is using refillable ant baiting stations.
These are typically stations where you can fill a liquid or gel bait that will attract ants.
Place these stations around the perimeter of your home.
I recommend placing one along each corner or side of your home.
Other ideal places to put bait stations are near ant mounts, in your garden near plants, or near other outdoor structures.
Check your bait stations regularly to ensure that there is still bait inside.
If you notice that ants are not consuming the bait, try using a different bait to attract them.
This method is much less invasive than a broadcast bait application.
It is also much easier to monitor and reapply when necessary.
The disadvantage is that fire ants need to forage to find whereas with broadcast bait application, you place the bait everywhere, making it easier for fire ants to find the bait.
Indoor Ant Bait
If you have fire ants indoors, the best way to treat them is by using bait stations or gel baits.
The best option is to use smaller bait stations or gel bait syringes.
I prefer syringes because they are easy to apply to hard to reach locations.
They are also easy to clean up once the ants have started eating the bait.
Gel bait syringes are also a bit easier to track because you can easily see the amount of bait that ants consume.
Place indoor bait anywhere you spotted ant trails during the inspection.
Other ideal locations are:
- Under appliances
- Small cracks and crevices
- Cabinet door hinges
- Windows or door sills
- Along walls or cabinets, guides, and baseboards.
- Near sources of water
- Near ant trails
I recommend applying small dabs onto 2×2 inch pieces of wax paper.
Doing so will make it easy to keep track of the bait and clean up any gel bait you apply.
Fire ants make mounds that are typically visible on the surface of the soil.
Since mounds are typically easier to find than other ants many people resort to nest treatments.
Nest treatment involves using insecticide directly on the nest.
Two of the most common ways are using granules or liquid insecticide.
Granules are insecticide packed into organic matter such as sand or pebbles.
These pebbles are poured over the ant nest, followed by water to release the active ingredient inside the granules.
The insecticide will seep into the soil and kill any ants that it comes in contact with it.
You can also use a liquid insecticide for nest treatment.
Its important to mention that nest treatment should not be the only treatment use to kill fire ants.
While nest treatments can deliver immediate results, there is a chance it wont work for deep or large nests.
A failed nest treatment can cause ants to move to a new nest.
Nest treatments can be used for problematic nest that pose and immediate threat.
But they should not be done alone.
I highly recommend first applying a a bait treatment either broadcast or bait station application.
This will allow you to be sure that even if fire ants nest does move, there will be baits nearby to target the remaining colony.
Nest treatments can also be used as a supplement to bait treatments but fire ants should be allowed to forage for 2-3 days with baits before a nest treatment is applied.
How to Prevent Fire Ants?
Clean Your Home
The best way to keep fire ants from entering your home is to remove food sources.
Store your food items properly.
Make sure to keep open food sealed in an air container.
You’ll also want to keep your pet food appropriately stored, as they are particularly appealing for fire ants.
It’s also important that you vacuum regularly. Ant’s feed on small crumbs that we don’t see.
Be sure to vacuum your room thoroughly to ensure you get any small crumbs hiding on the carpet.
You’ll also want to vaccumm hidden places such as under appliances and furniture.
Further, remove the garbage out of your home regularly to prevent them from attracting ants.
Seal Entry Points
Ants are tiny and can get through the smallest crevices and holes.
To prevent them from infesting your home, fill any voids on your walls and floors with the appropriate material.
Caulk cracks and crevices that offer any entrance from the outside of your home.
Maintaining your landscape is an important part of preventing fire ants.
Trimming trees and bushes to prevent direct contact with your home is essential.
Fire ants can use trees and bushes that are in direct contact with your home as a bridge to get access to your home.
Keeping your grass trimmed is also a great way to limit foraging places for fire ants.
It will make it less desirable to fire ants.
Also, cut or remove and indoor gardening pots that are near your home.
Remove Excess Water
Fire ants need a daily source of water to survive.
Fix any leak or drainage issues you may have.
Address any excess moisture in your home to remove potential sources of water.
- Repair any leaky plumbing inside and outside your home
- Make sure your rain gutters, downspouts, and splash blocks are functioning properly. They should keep the water at least five feet minimum from your foundation wall.
- Keep all sprinkler heads pointed away from your home’s foundation
- Keep any dripping water from your air conditioning away from your foundation.
- Make sure your yard is designed to let the water flow away from your home when it rains. If that isn’t the case, contact a yard drainer professional to get your yard graded properly.
- Fix uneven concrete that causes water to pool in one area during rainstorms.
To prevent fire ants from infesting your home, make sure you do regular monitoring and inspections.
I recommend doing inspections once a month:
- Monitor any areas around your home that have food water sources, such as the kitchens and bathrooms. Check your sinks, pipes, dishwashers, cupboards, and electrical wires.
- Check your turf grasses, landscaping and gardens for any fire ant mound.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
How Do Fire Ants Form Their Colony?
Fire ants build their colonies in dome-shaped mounds.
These mounds extend deep underground, where the ants can move their colony when it gets too hot outside.
Conversely, when it gets too cold, they pull the colony up closer to the surface to get some warmth.
Mature Imported red fire ant colonies can grow up to 400,000 members.
Like all ants, they have an organized social structure.
They have workers, which do all the labor work. They also have a queen, whose primary purpose is to lay eggs.
The queen ant can live up to six years and produce up to 1,500 eggs per day.
Young fire ants tend to the eggs and the young. Older, more expendable workers forage food.
Fire ant workers live up five weeks.
Fire ants form two types of colony: the single queen and multiple queen colony.
Workers in single queen colonies are territorial and only forage within their territory.
In contrast, workers from multiple queen colonies will move freely from one mound to another.
This freedom is one of the primary reasons why fire ants mounds easily proliferate.
Fire ants can spread through seasonal migration, colony expansion, and rafting on water.
In most cases, colonies with a single queen typically expand through colony expansion or mating flights.
Whereas, colonies with multiple queens typically expand through ground migration.
Do Fire Ants Bite?
Yes. Both Red Imported Fire Ants and Black Imported Fire Ants are notorious for their painful bites.
Their venom burns and causes that persist for days.
Even worse is that the fire ant will bite you multiple times. This means that if you accidentally step on their mound, you can sustain many stings.
Sometimes, these bites can cause a trip to the emergency room.
Some victims will experience nausea, vomiting, dizziness, and asthma.
In worse cases, the fire ant sting can cause anaphylactic shock or death.
If you are stung by a fire ant, watch out for symptoms such as excessive swelling, allergic reaction, shortness of breath etc.
If you experience these symptoms, seek medical attention immediately.
How Do Fire Ants Communicate With Each Other?
Fire ants communicate through chemical secretions or pheromones.
For example, fire ants recruit others to sources of food by secreting a chemical through their stinger.
Research shows that ants have between 10-20 chemical signals to communicate with other ants.
Fire ants also communicate using stridulation.
Stridulation is the act of creating sounds by rubbing parts of their body together.
These sounds or vibrations act as signals to other ants on what is taking place in the colony.
What Harm Do Fire Ants Cause?
Fire ants are more than just a nuance.
Red Imported Fire Ants in particular, cost farmers and homeowners in the US billions each year.
They feed on plants, crops and grass destroying livestock, gardens and parks.
They are also known to frequently destroy and infest electrical equipment. These ants will nest in electronics such as televisions and water heaters.
Added to that they have notoriously painful bites.
Red Imported Fire Ants are aggressive in nature.
Anyone who accidentally steps on their mound and tunnels can be attacked by hundreds of fire ants.
How Do Fire Ants Get Inside my Home?
Fire ants typically get inside your house through cracks or crevices.
These cracks and crevices are common:
- Around the foundation
- Door and Window Sills
- Open Screens
- Cracks on walls
- Open doors or windows
How Do You Prevent Fire Ant Mounds?
There are two ways you can prevent fire ant mounds: broadcast bait treatment or liquid insecticide treatment.
With a broadcast bait treatment, there will be bait on the surface of your lawn that will kill any foraging fire ants.
Even if fire ants star creating mounds, they will die before they get too large.
On the other hand, a liquid whole yard treatment will kill any ants that walks or try to build nest in the soil around your home.
These treatments typically need to be reapplied every 3-6 months to remain effective.
Can I Kill Fire Ants with Dish Soap?
Yes, a combination dish soap and water can kill ants.
This method is often used to treat ant mounds.
Unfortunately, this is not an effective way of eliminating ants.
When treating an ant mound, there is no guarantee that you have eliminated the colony.
It’s possible that the ants fled the nest before getting any treatment or the soap water was not able to penetrate the soil.
Also dish soap has no residual effect, which means they will only die if they make contact with the solution.