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How to Get Rid of Fire Ants [Most Effective Methods]

The red imported fire ant (sometimes abbreviated RIFA) is a devilish pest from the floodplains of South America. In the 1930s, these invasive ants began stowing away on trade ships and have since become a scourge throughout the entire world; fire ants are now a pestilence to people in Australia, the southern United States, and countries throughout Asia and the Caribbean.

Like any unwanted house guest, these tourists have proved tricky to remove — the species’ Latin name, Solenopsis invicta, means “invincible.”

Luckily for all of us who have to put up with fire ants, invincible is a bit of an exaggeration — but not by much. The fire ant is a productive and especially productive species, capable of inhabiting many environments and achieving rapid exponential growth.

Following good practices of identification, mound treatment, and preventative action is how to get rid of fire ants and step outside care-free once again.

Identifying Fire Ants

Ant species are pretty unique. To effectively get rid of fire ants we have to be sure you are in fact dealing with fire ants, as the tactics and products we use will be specific to them.

Here’s a quick overview on identifying fire ants.

Anatomy

Fire ants are tiny, ranging from a tenth of an inch (2mm) to a quarter of an inch (6mm) in length. This variance is seen between workers within a single nest, making the species polymorphic (meaning multiple forms exist within a single population). Should you need to make the distinction, smaller fire ants are called minor workers and their beefier siblings are called major workers or soldiers.

Regardless of their caste, fire ants have a light reddish brown to dark brown color, and their abdomens are darker than their heads and bodies. The workers also have a defining sting apparatus, and you’ll know when they sting you why they’re called fire ants. Unless you’re a fan of painful burning sensations and nasty welts, it’s best to identify these pests from afar.

Differences among other types of ants

In addition to the painful stings that give fire ants their name, the species has a number of attributes that make it an especially detested pest. Fire ants like to swarm aggressively, reproduce rapidly, and occasionally kill small domestic animals like calves and pigs by repeatedly stinging them.

Furthermore, fire ants are uncommonly productive and passionate about colony growth. A single colony can produce 4,500 queens a year, each of which can go on to lay 5,000 eggs a day for the next 5-7 years. Once mated, queens can fly far and wide, hitch a ride on flowing water, and even work together to establish new colonies (a practice called pleometrosis).

If all that isn’t bad enough, fire ants have a special filter in their digestive system that renders them unaffected by common bacteria used to kill other insect pests. Treating fire ant mounds thus requires special, highly lethal chemicals.

Signs of infestation

The best way to identify fire ants is by their characteristic nest mounds, which the ants prefer to build in open areas with good sun exposure: lawns, pastures, roadsides, and the like. Under the right soil conditions, these mounds can reach over three feet tall and three feet wide at the base.

The ants won’t always make it quite that easy to find them: their mounds often take irregular shapes, have no obvious entry or exit holes, and can sometimes appear as nothing more than flattened patches of disturbed soil.

Though fire ants prefer open areas, their nests can also be found near or under objects on the ground like logs, stones, or potted plants.

Be careful, though, if you’re examining a potential mound: fire ants are especially aggressive near their nests, and may choose to swarm you by the dozen. This situation may quickly go from bad to worse, as they tend to all sting together at once — and they’ll sting twice and a third time, too.

As the Queensland government warns: “multiple stings give the sensation that the body is on fire.” This sensation can last for up to an hour, and the painful welts will last much longer. If you’re really unlucky, you may experience a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) and require medical attention.

Killing Fire Ants

Killing fire ant colonies can be a very frustrating experience, but with the proper tools, you can efficiently get rid of an entire fire ant infestation just like the pros. There are a few different types of products and application methods, so I recommend using a multi-faceted approach with both powder baits and broadcast granules.

Here are more details on each type and our preferred product to use.

Types of products

Powder Bait

Powder bait is the most common and effective way to control fire ant mounds. Proper bait requires a lethal formula to account for the species’ resilience and population density, and is applied simply by spreading a small amount 3 to 4 feet around the base of each mound.

I recommend using Extinguish Plus Fire Ant Bait. It’s pretty simple to use – broadcast the bait around the mound on a day when the soil is ideally 65 degrees or warmer and fire ants are foraging. You should also not use the bait when it’s going to rain in the next 8-24 hours or so.

Extinguish Plus Fire Ant Bait
Active Ingredient: Hydramethylnon 0.36%, S-Methoprene 0.25%

Extinguish Plus combines the power of hydramethylnon with an insect growth regulator (IGR) to kill fire ant workers and prevent queens from laying fertile eggs. The result is complete fire ant colony control.

Why DoMyOwn?DoMyOwn.com offers professional-grade insecticides to DIYers while ensuring proper storage of chemicals. Couple that with their impressive customer service and knowledgeable staff, it’s the #1 choice.

This is best used in the spring or early fall since the temperature will be warm enough and the fire ants will be active. In late fall and winter, fire ants will typically not be active enough for the bait to work.

If you’re dealing with fire ants all over your property, this bait can be broadcast over your yard at a rate of 1.5 lbs per acre. When treating an individual mound, you only need about 2-5 tablespoons which you’ll want to distribute uniformly around the mound, as wide as 2-3 feet away from the center.

If you’re dealing with fire ants in your car or in your home, you can use this bait in cracks and crevices, but for the most part you want to treat outside.

Liquid Insecticide

Liquid insecticides generally come in a concentrated form and must be diluted with water before being applied. These are generally more effective as topical remedies for specific nests, which can be dealt with using a technique known as mound drenching. Typically, these insecticides work on a wide array of pests including ticks, fleas, spiders, mosquitoes, and many more.

Talstar P Professional Insecticide
Active Ingredient: Bifenthrin 7.9%

Talstar insecticide kills over 75 insect pests and can be used for indoor pest control, outdoor pest control, food handling areas, turf and ornamental treatments, in the yard as a yard spray to treat fleas or other yard pests, and even for termite control.

Why DoMyOwn?DoMyOwn.com offers professional-grade insecticides to DIYers while ensuring proper storage of chemicals. Couple that with their impressive customer service and knowledgeable staff, it’s the #1 choice.

In order to treat fire ants with a mound drench, you should first wet the mound with a hose or bucket. Then, mix your pesticide (I recommend Talstar) at a rate of 1 ounce per gallon in your pesticide sprayer, and completely drench the mound

Sprinkle water from the sprayer over the mound until it’s fully saturated, and treat ~3 feet out from the mound as well. Your liquids should break the apex of the mound, and then the pesticide mix will flow down through the tunnels.

You can also use this same method with Talstar granules, as seen in the video below –

Do none of these pesticide options sound appealing? We do also have a guide on how to get rid of fire ants naturally, but I have to warn you that I wouldn’t say those methods are quite as effective as what’s listed here.

Fire Ants Indoors

If the worst happens and a colony of fire ants has made its way into your home, all is not lost. In addition to treating the mounds as normal outside your property, you can buy specific baits formulated for indoor use. If there are just a few ants foraging in your home, you can spray them directly with a contact insecticide.

If you discover the ants are nesting somewhere in your house, the situation may be more complicated. You should consider talking to a professional exterminator for advice, as a higher-strength contact insecticide may need to be applied.

Preventing Fire Ants

Fire ants are an aggressive, remarkably persistent pest that wreak havoc on agricultural operations, natural ecosystems, and quality of life all over the world. RIFAs have made their way to at least 15 states in the US, and the costs of dealing with them — mitigating damage, controlling their spread — runs up to $500 million per year in Texas alone. Homeowners spend another $8 million each year just on medical treatments due to fire ant stings.

Needless to say, you’d do well to avoid them.

To do so, make sure your property is sealed tight: don’t let tiny cracks in your foundation or openings by your doors and windows get taken as an invitation. If you can, install weep hole covers with an aperture no greater than 0.5 millimeters (about 0.02 inches).

Because fire ants nest in soil around structural foundations, it’s easy for them to stumble onto an HVAC system or air conditioning unit that grants them access to your home. To mitigate risk, it’s important to regularly check around your property for nest mounds and address fire ant activity before it can become a bigger issue.

Finally, the most effective preventative measure for fire ants is to broadcast bait seasonally and to apply insecticide promptly to any mounds you see. It’s also a good idea to keep a close eye on any new plants, shrubs, mulch, or trees you introduce to your land, as the soil may be harboring tiny, stinger-happy fugitives. Don’t let your property become the next place fire ants invade!

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Written by Wesley Wheeler

Wesley has over 10 years of residential and commercial pest control experience dealing with every kind of pest. He ran his own pest control company for 6 years and now shares his knowledge online.

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