The Ants Go Marching Into Fall

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a group of fire ants on a stick

Now that fall has arrived, this may be your last opportunity to take action against fire ants before colder weather forces these insects deeper underground.

Fire ants can be found in many locations across Pamlico County including sidewalks, lawns, fields and roadsides. For those unfamiliar with fire ants, they can sting. Within 24 hours after a person is stung, a pustule-like sore often forms at each sting site and is often accompanied by excessive itching. For many this is just a nuisance, but for those who are allergic this can be dangerous. Fire ants build large colonies in the ground, with portions of the colony above ground in visible mounds. Smaller colonies may go undetected in the landscape until heavy rainfall occurs, which results in more visible mounds closer to the surface as fire ants seek refuge from accumulating groundwater.

A common approach to fire ant control involves a two-step treatment using fire ant bait and individual mound treatments. First, ant bait products are broadcast near active mounds, which the ants will forage for and feed upon, spreading the active ingredient among the colony. Many of these bait products (Amdro Fire Ant Bait, Extinguish, etc.) contain active ingredients that prevent growth or reproduction resulting in death of insects. Bait products work best when conditions are dry and insects can actively forage. This process may take several days, so be patient. Follow-up treatments should be 5-7 days later, and focused on targeting visible mounds that are still active. Mound treatments (Ortho Fire Ant Killer, Sevin, etc.) tend to work in hours to days. The active ingredients in these products require direct contact with fire ants with some products requiring water to be applied to move the chemical down into the mound for greater contact.

When using insecticides, ALWAYS READ AND FOLLOW THE LABEL DIRECTIONS. This is important because the efficacy of your application hinges on your ability to follow proper application methodology. Citizens should understand that a single application will not result in complete eradication of fire ants. Fire ants are constantly moving and many colony locations are not easily identifiable from the soil surface. What few insects you control today can easily be replaced by other insects moving in from other locations. Your goal should be to manage the population of fire ants within your landscape to a level where human interactions are minimized. All pesticide labels will contain additional information for safety precautions and hazards that exist for pets and wildlife. In general, following the instructions on the pesticide label will help to ensure safety for all.

For more information on fire ants and recommended products for their control review our NC State Extension fire ant factsheet. You can also contact Daniel Simpson at 252-745-4121 or daniel_simpson@ncsu.edu.

Disclaimer: Recommendations for the use of agricultural chemicals are included in this article as a convenience to the reader. The use of brand names and any mention or listing of commercial products or services in this publication does not imply endorsement by NC State University or N.C. A&T State University nor discrimination against similar products or services not mentioned. Individuals who use agricultural chemicals are responsible for ensuring that the intended use complies with current regulations and conforms to the product label. Be sure to obtain current information about usage regulations and examine a current product label before applying any chemical. For assistance, contact your local N.C. Cooperative Extension County Center.