You’re out with the kids in the backyard and all of a sudden one of them starts jumping up and down screaming and pulling at their shoes. It’s those @#*&$! fire ants again. Mounds of these annoying ants seem to pop up overnight, and when they inject their venom, it burns.
Fire ants can be found throughout the southeastern U.S., from Texas up into most of North Carolina. There are even pockets as far north as Pennsylvania and in the southwestern United States; the ants continue to expand their territory. Fire ants are native to South America and are believed to have been brought to the U.S. via a cargo ship in the early 1900’s.
You may notice mounds in your yard that initially will be fairly small and no more than an inch high. The mounds may grow rapidly if left undisturbed. It is not uncommon to find hundreds of thousands of ants in a colony, and in severe infestations, there may be multiple colonies right next to each other.
Are fire ants dangerous?
When a fire ant mound is disturbed, the ants will rush to the surface to attack whatever has disturbed the mound. Oftentimes when a person steps on a fire ant mound, he or she won’t even know they have disturbed the mound until multiple ants have started biting and stinging them (fire ants bite to hold on to you, then inject the venom from a stinger in their abdomen). The ants can be hard to get off your skin, and they will continue to sting you until they are removed.
In most people, the venom burns and causes welts and pustules which can last for days. There are a variety of home remedies that may help with the discomfort. For those who are allergic to the venom, they may have a more serious reaction, especially in cases where they are stung multiple times; they may even die from anaphylactic shock as a result of the stings from the fire ants. If you are stung by fire ants and have any tightness in your chest or your breathing is affected, get to a hospital immediately for treatment.
How do I treat fire ants?
Fire ants typically stay outside, though periodically we will get calls from homeowners who find them indoors. Outdoors, a two step approach can be effective. Initially, you will want to apply a bait product across your entire yard. Timing makes a difference with these products, and you want to apply the bait when the ants are foraging for food. A second bait application should be made to individual mounds 7-10 days later. In either case, contacting a professional is your best option. Clegg’s currently has a baiting method that eliminates fire ant colonies within three days and is effective for up to six months.
Unfortunately, new fire ant queens can fly and will start new colonies anywhere from several feet to several miles away from their birth colonies, so treating once may eliminate the original colonies but you may later find others. It can be helpful to talk to your neighbors and all treat your yards at the same time.