Named for their burning sting, fire ants present quite a nuisance even though they typically are found outdoors. Fire ants are distinguished by their reddish-brown color, with the head more red and the body more dark brown. Fire ants build a series of close, small nests in dry ground, often with an object partially concealing the crater-like entrance. Most nests are out in the open, but sometimes nests appear on the edge of walkways or at the base of plants.
“Fire ant” sounds intimidating enough; if even slightly provoked, these aggressive ants will rush from their nest to bite and sting the offender. Bother the nest, and you’ll want to get the blazes out of there! (Picture an Indiana Jones-like situation with you fleeing the advancing angry ants with “Flight of the Bumblebee” playing in the background.)
Fire ants feed on sweets, fats, oily substances, and even small animals and birds, which die almost immediately following the venomous sting. Humans, however, are not as vulnerable to the sting. Even though the sting will be quite painful (a burning sensation like fire), most treatments involve products from your home medicine closet. Hydrocortisone cream or aloe vera will help soothe the burning, and orally-ingested antihistamine will mitigate allergic reactions. However, if a sting-victim experiences a severe allergic reaction to the venom (severe chest pain, nausea, sweating, loss of breath, swelling, slurred speech), see a doctor immediately as it can be deadly. Not fun.
Please visit our fire ant control page for in depth techniques on controlling fire ants.
Fire Ant DIY
Some common household chemicals are effective in reducing fire ant populations. Be aware, though, that fire ants will swarm and sting anything that disturbs their nest, so take proper precautions before trying any of these methods. (Precautions may include: wearing heavy gloves, thick shoes, and long pants, and tucking pant legs into long socks.)
Homeland Security (indoors):
Bleach: Spray bathtub cleaner containing bleach on individual fire ants, which will die within a few seconds. This method is most effective indoors.
Baits containing spinosad: Found in some fire ant baits, spinosad is usually mixed with corn bits and soybean oil. Fire ants carry the bait back to their colony; when ingested, spinosad attacks the ants’ nervous systems and paralyzes them.
Chemical dusts: Sprinkle chemical dusts containing deltamethrin or permethrin on cracks and crevices where ants are likely to enter.
Behind Enemy Lines (outdoors):
Boric acid: Boil some water on your stove, then pour in sugar and boric acid powder and stir to dissolve. Pour the solution near the mound. The solution will either kill ants on contact or be carried back to the nest by hungry ants which will soon die from the chemical.
Lye soap: Apply melted lye soap to fire ant mounds. Lye will burn and kill the ants but may also burn you—be careful.
As fire ants are extremely aggressive, it may be wise to save your own skin and call a professional to do it for you. These methods are intended only for the bravest of souls.
Fire Ant Green Solutions
If you’re interested in an environmentally-friendly way to rid yourself of fire ants, consider the following green solutions. (Be aware, though, that fire ants will swarm and sting anything that disturbs their nest, so take proper precautions before trying any of these methods. Precautions may include: wearing heavy gloves, thick shoes, and long pants, and tucking pant legs into long socks.)
Orange peels: Spread crushed or grated orange peels around the mound. Orange peels contain a chemical called D-limonene which quickly kills fire ants on contact by dissolving the wax coating in their respiratory system.
Boiling water: Pour at least two to three gallons of boiling water on top of the fire ant mound. This is most effective after rain when the interior tunnels are muddy and hard to navigate. The boiling water method can kill up to 60% of the colony. (However, keep in mind that handling boiling water is dangerous, and boiling water can kill vegetation and make soil less fertile).
Burning coals: Give the fire ants a taste of their own medicine. Put burning coals or briquettes on the mound. The embers will kill fire ants on contact.
Diatomaceous earth: Diatomaceous earth is a substance comprised of crushed marine animal shells. When carried to the nest, the particles cause dehydration within 24 hours.
As fire ants are extremely aggressive, it may be wise to save your own skin and call a professional to do it for you.