If you ever had an unpleasant encounter with fire ants as a child, you probably remember it all too well. While most ants are relatively harmless (though they may be annoying), fire ants can deliver a horrible, fiery sting. This is what gives them their name.
Most people know that fire ants live in the southern United States, but there are actually a few different types of fire ant that can occur in different regions, including the northeast.
When it comes to getting rid of fire ants, the specific species you have doesn’t matter much as long as you take steps to keep them off your property. We’re here to tell you everything you need to know about getting rid of fire ants using natural and organic products. I’ll cover how to identify them, and how to get rid of them once you do.
Types of Fire Ant
There are two main types of fire ants that you can encounter in the United States.
Both types of fire ants form large mounds, sting aggressively, and are brown to red in color. They also have a similar protein-rich diet, which is definitely helpful for selecting baits to control the ants.
It’s pretty easy to tell them apart by where you find them. However, they are usually treated the same way, so it’s not always necessary to identify them to species. If all you care about is getting rid of the ants, it really doesn’t matter which kind you have.
For those who are a bit more curious, here are the main two types of fire ants in the United States.
European Fire Ant (Myrmica rubra)
As the name suggests, this species is native to Europe, but it has since established itself in the northeastern United States. If you are having a fire ant issue and live in that region, this is almost certainly the species you’re dealing with.
One interesting feature of these ants is that their colonies produce always multiple queens, as many as 100 per colony. This is part of the reason why fire ants can be difficult to get rid of permanently – even a single queen left behind can slowly rebuild the colony.
Red Imported Fire Ant (Solenopsis invicta)
This is the ant people usually think of when they think of fire ants. It lives throughout the southeastern United States with the potential to spread westward, though the species does not seem to be permanently established in the west. They originally came from Argentina, likely as a result of contaminated dirt used as ballast for ships.
These ants may have multiple queens like their European cousins (as many as 700!), or they can happily form single-queen colonies. The multi-queen colonies may be quite expansive, spreading across multiple mounds.
3 Steps to Get Rid of Fire Ants with Natural or Organic Products
Unfortunately, fire ants are not always the easiest pest to get rid of. Their massive multi-queen colonies can be difficult to wipe out permanently.
Many people with fire ant infestations must treat their property regularly to keep the ants at bay. Depending on your situation, you may need to incorporate fire ant treatment into your seasonal yard maintenance for the long term.
The good news is that in the short term, the ants are easy to control. So follow these steps and you should see a great decline in fire ant numbers on your property.
Step 1 – Bait the Trails
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Ant baits are a great way to start controlling any species of ant, and fire ants are no exception. Ant baits contain slow-acting toxins packaged within something the ants love to eat. When the ants pick up the bait, they poison themselves. Because the bait acts slowly, they also bring the bait back to the colony and spread the poison around.
When it comes to choosing a natural or organic bait for fire ants, the options are very limited. Most borax ant baits aren’t labeled for use with fire ants, likely because fire ants don’t find it appetizing.
Instead, I recommend Come and Get It which uses the active ingredient Spinosad. Spinosad is a substance made from bacteria in the soil that can kill fire ants that come into contact with it in 1-2 days.
How to Apply Ant Bait
For best results, you should use fresh bait, so only buy as much as you plan to use. In order for the bait to work, the workers need to encounter it. So apply the bait around the nest and on any distinct paths you notice ants walking along.
You should also only apply bait when the ground is dry and no rain is forecasted, otherwise, the bait may wash away.
Try to apply your bait when the ants are most active. For hot summer days, this is usually late in the day when it’s somewhat cooler. However, the most active time for ants may be the middle of the day if you live somewhere cold. Spend a day observing the ants before deciding.
The best way to apply ant bait is to broadcast it, which is the industry term for evenly spreading the bait over an area. If the bait is a granular formulation, this can be done by just sprinkling it yourself. However, for best results, use a broadcast spreader.
They are available online at reasonable prices and, unlike the bait, are a one-time investment.
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Step 2 – Spray the Mounds
While some pest insects hide in and around your home, fire ants are pretty easy to spot because they produce large mounds. Identifying a fire ant mound is easy if you know what to look for. They look like large piles of loose dust.
Unlike a typical anthill, there is no obvious entrance or exit to a fire ant mound. The ants access the mound through tunnels underground. Mounds tend to be in open areas, can pop up quickly after rain, and the mounds look fluffier and more aerated than the dirt around it.
Mounds can be treated by spraying and drenching. Unlike other pesticide applications, drenching a fire ant mound requires a high volume of liquid. It must be enough to penetrate the entire mound.
The best natural pesticide for drenching a fire ant mound is Essentria IC3.
Essentria IC3 delivers a mix of 3 essential oils that is able to kill pests quickly. It’s one of the few natural/organic products labeled to treat a fire ant mound.
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When using Essentria IC3 to treat a fire mound, follow these instructions from the product’s label –
Dilute 2 to 4 fluid ounces of Essentria IC3 per gallon of water.
Apply 1 to 2 gallons of emulsion to each mound area by sprinkling the mound until it is wet and treat a 4-foot diameter circle around the mound.
Use the higher volume of mixture for mounds larger than 12 inches. For best results, apply in cool weather, such as the early morning or late evening hours, but not in the heat of the day.
It’s possible you will need to treat mounds again if a queen survives. Make sure you find and treat every mound on your property, too. Otherwise, it will be easier for the ants to avoid the pesticides by hiding in other mounds.
Step 3) Apply a Dust
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A dust-based pesticide can provide an extra layer of insecticidal action after soaking. It combines some of the benefits of both baits and drenching.
Like drenching, it attacks the ants right at the mound. Dusts are formulated so the insects spread the insecticide around, bringing it into the mound to kill even more ants.
After the mounds are dry from your drenching (about 2-3 days, maybe longer for especially large mounds), distribute the dust evenly over the mound. The ants will pick up the dust particles and spread them to other ants in and around the mound.
Diatomaceous earth is a natural material that comes directly from the earth that kills insects like ants. It cuts their waxy exoskeleton and causes them to dehydrate.
Fire Ant FAQ’s
Do fire ants bite or sting?
Unfortunately, they do both. However, the pain you experience is from the sting. The bite is mostly painless and is just to give the ant a good grip. So it doesn’t really matter that the bite is painless – it will always be accompanied by a sting.
Are fire ant stings harmful?
It depends on what you mean by harm. Most people will not die from a fire ant sting. However, their venom does contain piperidines, which make the site of the sting burn and eventually form a pustule, so a fire ant sting is a bit worse than the average insect bite or sting in that respect.
While the entire reaction to a fire ant sting is technically an allergic reaction, some people are much more allergic than others. It is possible to go into anaphylactic shock after a fire ant sting, but this is exceedingly rare. About 1% of stings result in anaphylaxis.
What color are fire ants?
Contrary to their name, fire ants are not bright red. They are a dull red to brown color, and their abdomen will be much darker than their body. They may even appear to be mostly black in some cases. If you’re unsure if an ant is a fire ant, look for other signs like mounds around the area or try to see if the ant has a stinger. Unfortunately, the surest way to identify a fire ant is to let it sting you, but we do not recommend this for the obvious reasons!
Where did fire ants originate?
Neither species of fire ant in the USA is native. The European fire is native to Europe (duh!) where it is widespread. Meanwhile, the red imported fire ants you find in southern states are native to South America. This is why their range is limited in the USA. They are used to warm, dry weather.