If you’re not familiar with fire ants or their work, consider yourself lucky. Not only do their bites sting like hell, but they can also cause a variety of damage in and around your home. Here’s what to know about those unwelcome houseguests and how to keep them from messing with you, your family and your property.
What to know about fire ant stings
Before we get into how to protect your home from fire ants, let’s talk about why you might want to keep these pests at a distance. In short: fire ants sting. Repeatedly. According to resources from Texas A&M University — specifically, a dedicated project they run on fire ants — you don’t mess with these pests. In fact, here’s how they put it: “fire ants are aggressive, will defensively attack anything that disturbs them, and can sting repeatedly.”
Fire ant stings typically involve burning, itching and white pustules that form after a day or two — which also happen to become infected easily, and may leave permanent scars. But at least, in most cases, the stings aren’t life-threatening. Still, they’re not your friendly cartoon ants that march one-by-one and live off a diet of pilfered picnic foods. Fire ants mean business.
How to tell if you have fire ants
The biggest clue that you’re dealing with fire ants is their mound, according to resources from Texas A&M. Although most fire ant mounts are a few inches tall, undisturbed mounds in pastures can get as high as 18 inches, and tend to become more visible a few days after a heavy rain.
The mounds consist of fluffy, well-worked soil, and — unlike most ant mounds — don’t have an opening in the centre. Instead, fire ants come and go from the mound via underground tunnels, like some sort of nature celebrities.
How to protect your home from fire ants
While there’s no “ideal” part of your home to have a fire ant infestation, parts containing electrical equipment are among the worst. Here’s why, per Texas A&M:
They chew on insulation and can cause short circuits or interfere with switching mechanisms. Air conditioners, traffic signal boxes, and other devices can be damaged. Fire ants also nest in housings around electrical and utility units. The ants move soil into these structures, which causes shorting and other mechanical problems.
Now that you know what you’re looking for and why you want to avoid them, here are some ways to help keep fire ants out of your home:
Target the mound
Once you locate a mound, one option is to destroy it. It’s best to do this in either the early morning or early evening, when fire ants are foraging for food, David Price, technical director and associate certified entomologist at Mosquito Joe explains in a recent interview with Realtor.com. From here, Price provides three different strategies:
- Drenching the mound with several litres of hot water, or insecticide mixed with several litres of water.
- Applying dust or granular insecticide over the top of the mound, which will then be watered into the soil.
- Sprinkling poisoned bait around the mound, so that foraging ants will bring it back to the colony and poison their family, friends and colleagues. Price notes that this method is slower than the first two, but also more effective “because the workers will feed the bait to the queen and brood, thus gaining effective control of the colony.”
Eliminate standing water and other moisture
Fire ants love water, so fill in parts of your yard that may be prone to collecting (and retaining) water. Also, fix any leaks in, on or around your house, because the fire ants will find them and use them to get into wall voids and roofs.
Don’t tempt them with your garden
If you have a nice garden and want to keep it that way, you’re going to need to keep fire ants out of it. In the same article on Realtor.com, Josh Matta, senior biologist and insect expert at Spectrum Brands provides few ways of doing that, which include:
- Keeping trees and shrubs trimmed
- Keeping straw and mulch far away from your house
- Removing ripe fruit from trees, and picking up any fallen fruit
Fire ants are not the kind of insects you want in your garden. Per Matta:
Fire ants can wreak havoc on a garden. This can occur throughout the year and can cause significant damage to soybean crops, citrus, corn, okra, bean, cabbage, cucumber, eggplant, potato, sweet potato, peanut, sorghum, sunflowers, and more.
Eliminate other food sources
In addition to keeping your garden tidy — and not giving the ants the chance to feast on your crops — Price also recommends getting rid of other food sources, including insects, earthworms and spiders. Inside the house, Price says that fire ants will also “collect honeydew and forage for sweets, proteins and fats.”
Fill in any cracks or entry points into your home
Fire ants are tiny and can squeeze themselves into your house pretty easily, through almost any crack, hole or gap. Price recommends patching holes and installing door sweeps on exterior doors and garage doors to keep them out.