Fire Ants: A Problem All Year Long

The red imported fire ant is a pest to fruit growers throughout the United States, but they are equally aggravating to homeowners as well. Fire ants are more often a pest during the warm summer months, but red imported fire ants can be a problem all year long. Fire ant colonies are active all year, although cold winter temperatures slow them down and drive them deeper into the soil.

Believe it our not, fall is the best time to treat fire ants. Fire ants need moisture to survive which is why you often find them in well watered yards and in athletic fields during the dry seasons of summer. During spring, the ants emerge from their deep refuge to search for a fresh food supply for a growing colony. During the fall, the temperatures are cooler, it rains more often, and the ants have to find their food supply for winter, so they are out and much more active.

The winter colony
Fire ants are not as noticeable in winter as they are during the summer months, but that doesn’t mean they are gone. Actually, they have dug a little deeper and are spending much of their time under ground. Fire ants are less active during the winter months, but during days when the temperatures rise, the ants often emerge for a breath of fresh air. They may also build up their mound after a hard rain. During winter, fire ants often take advantage of solar radiation by building their mounds against concrete and asphalt structures such as foundations, parking pads, parking lots, sidewalks, and along curbs. The solar radiation allows the worker ants and other active members of the colony to stay closer to the ground surface. The hybrid form of fire ants (those species from the red or back imported fire ants) are thought to be more cold tolerant than either parent species.

The spring colony
During the spring months, ants are very active in the warm, humid air. They can often be found in plant beds, grass, and compost piles. During the spring, the queen lays as many as 800 eggs per day. The worker ants spend their time foraging for food to feed the new colony members. As the colony grows, so does the mound and the number of workers foraging for food.

The summer colony
During summer, fire ants like to build their mounds in beautiful landscaped yards that are sunny and are mowed and watered regularly. They build their nest in vegetable gardens, in flower gardens and flower pots, and near other plants that are watered and care for. People caring for plants often run into the ants and fall victim to ant bites. During the hot dry summer, the ants may disappear leaving only their mound as evidence of their existence. However, once the temperatures cool down and it rains a little, the fire ants and new mounds will be apparent.

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The fall colony
During the fall, ants tend to forage for food that will carry them through the cold months. While the weather is still warm, the worker ants are hard at work carrying food down into the mound to sustain the colony during winter. The fire ants venture further away from the mound as food sources become harder to find and they often come in contact with people. The mounds also rise above the ground in preparation of winter.

All-weather treatment plan
During the summer, fire ants like to eat fruits and high protein oily foods; however, during winter their preference changes. Therefore, the treatment you use to rid your property of the pests must change as well. Because the ants don’t venture far from the mound during winter, a mound treatment or spot treating a mound is effective.

The weather should determine what treatment you use. During the summer you should drench the mound on a cool, sunny morning while the ants are concentrated near the soil surface. Later in the day and during hot, dry weather, the ants retreat deep into the mound where the bait is less likely to reach them. During the winter months, baits are ineffective because ants forage for food when temperatures are above 60 degrees Fahrenheit.

The fall months are actually a great time to apply baits. Broadcasting bait across the property using a seed or fertilizer spreader works great at full coverage. Once the bait is down, the worker ants find the bait that they think is food and they carry it down into the nest, deep in the soil. The bait takes longer, but it is effective. It may take the entire winter to kill the mound, but you will have fewer ant mounds during the following spring to worry about.

When the weather grows colder, it may appear you have no fire ants at all; however, during warm spells of temperatures reaching at least 60 degrees, the ants can become active. Because ants live in their mounds at different levels and forge for food depending on the temperatures, you have to treat the mounds differently. Ants just love warm comfortable weather and your treatment of the mound should reflect their habits.

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The Ready Store
"The doctor of the future will give no medicine, but will interest his patient in the care of the human frame, in diet and in the cause and prevention of disease" ~ Thomas Jefferson

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