Fire Ants

Fire Ants, or to use their official name, Red Imported fire ants (Solenopsis invicta), are one of those lawn pests you might know about, but probably never actually want to encounter. Like most ants, they build nests into the soil to inhabit, breed and feed. But these little red ants come with a big bite - really more of a sting. Nonetheless, a close-up encounter with fire ants is one that promises to be a very painful, and likely unforgettable experience.

For most homeowners, fire ants will not be an issue for the home lawn or yard. These insects are only found in the southeast, south central and southwest regions of the United States. But if you’re one of the lucky ones in a southern region of the US that finds a suspicious ant mound smack dab in the middle of your lawn, don’t worry - at Sunday, we’re here to help and have a secret weapon handy to help you fight off those small but mighty fire ants.

How to ID Fire Ants

When it comes to fire ants, first look for small ‘fire red’ colored ants. The main culprit you’ll be seeing and dealing with are the ‘workers’ of the colony. Workers are small red ants that are polymorphic, which mean they consist of many sizes. These ants can range anywhere between 1/8 to 1/4 inches in length with a waist consisting of two distinct nodes (bumps between the middle and rear body segments). But proceed with caution when managing for fire ants, because there are a multitude of different ant species they are commonly confused with, including:

  1. Native fire ants
  2. harvester ants
  3. pharaoh ants
  4. thief ants
  5. Allegheny mound ants (which are much larger)

Luckily, there’s a sure ‘fire’ way to ID these pests – their habitat. But here’s hoping you spot that, before the ants spot you.

Where Do Fire Ants Live?

Fire ant nests are found primarily outdoors within the lawn and landscaped areas. The ants reside in large colonies consisting of one or many queens and can contain up to 100,000(!)  worker ants in large lawns (Sunday Funday Fact: most common ant colonies are 3,000-5,000 ants). Fire ant colonies are identified by mounds of soil no more than 18″ in diameter. Mounds in clay soils tend to be symmetrical and dome-shaped, where mounds in sandy soils will tend to be more irregularly shaped. When disturbed, small red ants will flood out and will inflict multiple painful stings to the perpetrator. In a lawn with a fire ant issue, the pest presence will result in unsightly mounds, sometimes throughout the landscape, and potentially painful, stinging interactions with fire ants for both people and pets.

When Are Fire Ants Active?

As soon as soil surface temperatures hit 56° F, fire ants will begin foraging outside of their mound and will do so up to 123° F. However, the optimal time for foraging occurs between 72° F to 96° F. Knowing when fire ants are actively foraging isn’t just important to know to avoid a painful sting when walking through your lawn, it’s actually key to managing, and hopefully eradicating the pest from your home lawn.

Natural Pest Prevention and Reduction Practices

Unfortunately, for both the homeowner and fire ants, there’s rarely a sustainable solution to coexisting – especially if you want to avoid painful stinging for your family and pets. Here’s best practices you can implement to get ahead of a major infestation of fire ants is: 

  1. Correctly ID fire ants. Identifying the pest correctly will help you identify a potential infestation as soon as possible.
  2. Monitor. Look for fire ant mounds and fire ant presence if you live in a region with fire ant presence.
  3. Stay away from fire ant mounds. Mark the area with flagging or posts to avoid the area until you can properly treat to avoid painful interactions with the fire ant mound.

How to Get Rid of Fire Ants

The most practical and proven method to manage fire ants is utilizing baits. By using baits, the fire ants actually do all of management for you. How does that work? Try the Sunday Fire Ant Fighter method:

  1. Always read and follow label instructions.
  2. First, make sure it’s optimal foraging temperature for fire ants (72°F to 96°F) and there’s no conflict with the weather (consistent rainfall or extreme winds).
  3. Next, locate the fire ant mound – being careful not to disturb it.
  4. Then place approximately 4 tablespoon (up to 6 tablespoons for larger mounds) of Sunday’s Fire Ant Fighter around the mound.
  5. Watch (from a safe distance) as the fire ants are attracted to the well-placed bait and carry it back to the mound.
  6. In about 3-14 days the fire ants will have fed the bait to the entire colony and foraging activity around the mound will begin to limit or stop all together. 

Sunday ProTip: If fire ant activity persists or the mound is quite large, we recommend applying another round of bait. If the treatment is effective, you can begin patching the now vacant ant mounds (e.g. bare soil spots) within your lawn. Once the grass has filled in, you will be able to enjoy peace of mind when your kiddos and pets run freely in the yard…

Cited Sources

UC IPM. Red Imported Fire Ant. University of California. 

NC State Extension. Red Imported Fire Ant. NC State University.

New York State Integrated Pest Management. Ants. Cornell University.