Properly identifying the ant species is the first step in determining whether and how to control them (see Fire Ant Biology and Identification). No management is an option that should be considered in areas where imported fire ants are not present or are present in very low numbers and do not pose a problem. Most management options require repeated treatments to maintain control, requiring a commitment to continued labor and expense. In the following sections are options for managing various kinds of imported fire ant problems. There may be other effective methods not mentioned. There is rarely a single best method of control.
Note: See Fire Ant Treatment Methods for information about biological control, home remedies, and insecticide products and their proper use. Use only pesticides labeled for the location or “site” you want to treat. For instance, DO NOT use a product in your vegetable garden unless that site is listed on the label.
Regularly updated lists of products for use on Tennessee sites such as schools (W649) and home lawns (W652) can be found on the Publication page.
Possible Treatment Options
Home and School Lawns and Other Ornamental Turf
Fire ants commonly infest lawns, schoolyards, athletic fields, golf courses and parks where they pose a medical threat to people and animals. Their mounds also detract from the appearance of landscape and can damage lawn care equipment.
Homes and Buildings
Fire ants from colonies close to homes and other buildings sometimes forage indoors for food and moisture, particularly during the hot, dry, summer months. Entire colonies occasionally nest in wall voids or rafters or behind large appliances, sometimes moving into buildings during floods or drought. They are a nuisance and can threaten sleeping or bed-ridden individuals and pets.
Organizing Community Protection
Despite great public concern, neither the state nor federal government is currently planning or funding any large-scale fire ant treatment programs. It is up to local organizations to decide on the best IPM strategy for a particular situation. With the help of experts in the field, any group can organize an effective fire ant suppression program. The larger the area treated the longer the suppression.
Electrical Equipment and Utility Housings
Air conditioners, traffic signal boxes, and other devices can be damaged from fire ants infesting devices and chewing on insulation, interfering with switching mechanisms, or moving soil into the devices causing corrosion, shorting out and other mechanical problems.
Fire ants feed on plant buds and fruits, tunnel into roots, and attack gardeners tending to gardens. They prey on some pests of the garden but also protect some pests like aphids.
Compost Piles, Mulched Flower Beds, Pavement Cracks, etc.
Fire ants invade compost piles and mulched flower beds when seeking warmth and moisture. They also nest under cracked pavement, removing dirt from underneath sidewalks and roadways and aggravating structural problems. Colonies in these sites may be difficult to locate. When the exact location of a fire ant colony is unknown, treat the area of greatest ant activity with a fast-acting bait product such as hydramethylnon, indoxacarb, abamectin or spinosad.
Around Bodies of Water
Fire ants require water to survive and are often found near creeks, run-off ditches, streams, rivers, ponds, lakes and other bodies of water. If surface water is unavailable, they tunnel down to the water table many feet below the ground. Every effort must be made to avoid contaminating water with pesticides. Some ant control products, such as those containing fipronil, have specific restrictions on the label regarding use near bodies of water. Fire ant bait products contain very small amounts of active ingredients and can be applied close to shorelines, but not directly to the water. To decrease the risk of runoff into waterways, apply baits when ants are actively foraging. Near water or in drainage or flood-prone areas, individual mound treatments should be made with care, using products such as acephate (Orthene ®) that have low toxicity to fish. Pyrethrins and rotenone products should be avoided because of their high toxicity to fish. Do not apply surface, bait or individual mound treatments if rains are likely to occur soon after treatment.