East Texas Ag News: Treating for fire ants in the fall

Fire ants
Fire ants(Marufish / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0)
Published: Sep. 28, 2023 at 3:40 PM CDT

LUFKIN, Texas (KTRE) - Just last week, I stepped in a fire ant mound that had been newly built after our recent rains. Fire ants will not only be seen more after the drought ended, but are typically quite active in the fall, gathering up their food stores to survive the coming winter.

This fall flurry of activity can give homeowners a great opportunity to greatly reduce their numbers. The scarcity of food resources that occurs each fall makes the foraging fire ants much more likely to pick up insecticide baits.

Fire ants are native to South America. They entered the U.S. through Mobile, Alabama, probably in soil used for ships’ ballasts. They were accidentally introduced around the 1930′s and have been spreading since.

Red imported fire ants are very aggressive, efficient competitors. Since the 1950′s in Texas, the ant has been spreading north, west and south. They now infest the eastern two-thirds of the state, and most every urban area in west Texas. Some fancy terms that I heard some years ago about fire ants is that they are “thermo-regulatory” and “hydro-regulatory”. Indeed, they will often seem to go away when they are just deeper in the ground looking for moisture and more moderate temperatures.

While the bad news is that they are a permanent problem, the good news is that, with relatively little cost and effort, you can prevent most of the problems they cause using currently available methods.

When applied correctly, baits will greatly reduce their chances of surviving the winter. As a result, landscapes can have significantly fewer fire ants (and their mounds) in the spring following a good fall control program.

Apply bait when no rain is expected for several days after treatment. Baits are slow-acting, taking weeks to months to reduce ant mound numbers. Unlike a mound treatment that is supposed to work quickly on each mound you find, baits can be taken back to work on several different mounds – even those you do not see. Their work is conducted underground, all winter long, slowly but surely reducing their numbers.

To maximize your effectiveness, work with neighbors to apply bait. Since fire ants frequently travel from yard to yard, team up with your neighbors to implement fire ant control programs at the same time. Decide what control method to use and find a sunny weekend to get it put out.

Use according to the label. There is a wealth of good information contained in the tiny print on the back of the package. Closely follow label directions. Today’s baits are gentle on the environment and are best applied using crank-type seeders or spreaders.

For more information on fire ant control and the latest research being conducted, go to the Texas Imported Fire Ant Research and Management Project at fireant.tamu.edu.