If you’re starting a fall “to do” list for your homegarden and landscape, add “treat for fire ants” to yourlist.”Overcast days when the ants are actively foraging areexcellent times to apply treatments,” said Beverly Sparks,an Extension Service entomologist with the University of GeorgiaCollege of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.”The temperature should be between 65 and 90 degrees,”she said, “so spring and fall are the best application times.”Don’t Treat if Rain is ForecastedTreat for fire ants on a day when rain isn’t in the forecast.”It needs to be dry for at least 24 hours after you applyyour treatment,” Sparks said.To effectively fight the fire ant battle, neighbors shouldjoin forces. “If you treat and your neighbors don’t, thefire ants can rapidly reinfest your yard,” said Sparks. “Neighborshave to work together and treat at the same time. And you can’tjust treat once and expect to get rid of them.”Sparks said you have to begin a treatment program or you won’tbe effective.When you apply a fire ant bait, it’s best broadcast the productover the infested area.”Broadcasting is much more effective and cost-efficientthan spot treating mounds with contact insecticides,” Sparkssaid. “If you want quick results, use Amdro. It works infour to six weeks, while other bait treatments may take severalmonths to control the mounds.”New Control Makes Fire Ants SickSparks and a team of UGA entomologists are testing a new controlmethod for fire ants. And they’re finding it effective.”We have released a microsporidian into fire ant coloniesin south Georgia,” Sparks said. “This is a biologicalcontrol agent that weakens the fire ant colonies and allows otherant species to be more competitive with them.”The control agent is introduced into the colony by infestedlarvae, which then spread it through the entire colony.”The challenges we face in using this technology includemass production of the microsporidian and dispersal of the controlagent from colony to colony,” said Sparks.Entomologists are also searching for other biological controlsin the ants’ homeland.Native to South America, the ants were first recorded in theUnited States in Alabama in the 1920s. The red imported fire antquickly earned a top spot on Americans’ most hated pests list.The ants can sting repeatedly, and the result is a burning,itching area that often develops a white pustule.Some Farmers Like Fire AntsMost people hate them, but fire ants can be an asset to cottonand sugar cane farmers.”We’ve found that cotton and sugar cane fields that containfire ant mounds, also contain less crop pests,” Sparks said.”The fire ants eat the pests.”Almost 300 million acres in the southern United States areinfested with fire ants. “The most recent infestations arein New Mexico, Nevada and California,” said Sparks.Here in Georgia, losses and control costs for fire ants exceed$52 million per year.Fire Ants Hate Cold Weather”Fire ants aren’t a problem in states like Missouri andMichigan because they can’t survive the cold,” Sparks said.”They can’t survive freezing soil temperatures for more thana week.”We first thought they couldn’t survive in the Georgiaand Tennessee mountains either,” she said. “But withmild winters and behavioral adaptations, they’ve managed to spreadand survive in these cooler regions.”Fire ants can also move into walls of homes or other protectedareas to survive the winter.Sparks spends her days searching for ways to control fire ants.But she doesn’t think we’ll ever eliminate them.”With the technology we have today, we aren’t going toeradicate them, she said. “We are going to have to learnto live with them and control them in an effective, safe manneraround our homes and recreational areas.”
Fight Fire Ants.