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Fire Ant Control This Fall

Fall is a great time to enjoy cooler weather, watching football with friends, decorating pumpkins, and killing fire ants. While we often think about this pest more during the spring and summer, controlling the pest now will greatly reduce the number you will encounter next year.

The red imported fire ant was introduced through a port in Mobile, AL from South America in the 1930s. The fire ant now infests more than 325 million acres from California throughout the southern US and Puerto Rico. Imported ants disturb native habitats and home landscapes and have created vast impact on the US economy. In fact, fire ants are estimated to have a $1.2 billion impact on the state of texas alone. “When fire ants sting, they release toxins that cause blisters, prolonged agony and even possible allergic reactions,” said Wayne, Gardner, a research entomologist with the UGA College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences.

“Fire ants colonies reach their peak in the fall having grown throughout the summer months,” said Dan Suiter, UGA Extension entomologist. Fire ants are most active in the spring and fall, when daytime temperatures are between 70 and 85 degrees, Suiter said. Actively foraging ants will pick up bait and carry it into the nest within the first hour or two.

Another reason to consider treating in the fall is the fact that the ants are not too deep in the ground. This is important because it makes them more susceptible to mound-drench, granular, dust or aerosol contact insecticides. When using these products it is critical to treat when the queen and brood are close to the surface, according the Dr. Suiter. A couple of other reasons to treat in the fall are many of the colonies are young and the fall is followed by winter which can be harsh on fire ants.

The first step in the fire ant control is broadcasting fire ant bait. Read the label carefully and follow all instructions.  Proper application of fire ant bait should suppress about 90% of the ants. Either broadcast the bait across your lawn or in a 4 foot circle around the mound. Take precaution not to disturb the mound. When applying fire ant bait do not use a spreader that has been used to spread fertilizer. Also fire ants can smell smoke and gasoline so wear gloves when applying the baits.

A second treatment may be necessary 7 to 10 days later. Between 7 and 10 days, disturb the nest and observe. If there is any ant activity, apply a fire ant insecticide to the mound. Often liquid contact insecticides are used; however, Gardner says dust or powders can also be sprinkled on the surface of the mound if you prefer dry treatments. “ One really excellent one is orthene (acephate) which is actually packaged and sold for fire ant control, “ he said. “For those colonies that might survive the bait treatment, a second treatment of the mound with this material is an excellent idea.”

For more information on fire ant baits or control, please call the Jones County Extension Office at 478-986-3958. Also, refer to a number of fire ant publications on the UGA publication website.