Managing Fire Ants for Specific Sites

ElectricalGardensHomes and Buildings • Lawns and Other TurfWaterHealth Care Facilities
Compost Piles, Mulched Flower Beds, Pavement Cracks

There are many options for managing various kinds of fire ant problems. When using pesticides, use only products labeled for the location or “site” you want to treat. For instance, DO NOT use a product in your vegetable garden unless that site is listed on the label. Many combinations of control options are available, and there may be no single best method. Researchers are looking into using natural enemies of imported fire ants to control them and are creating methods that are even more safe for the environment than currently available low toxic products.

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Electrical Equipment and Utility Housings

Like other ants, fire ants frequently infest electrical equipment. They chew on insulation and can cause short circuits or interfere with switching mechanisms. Air conditioners, traffic signal boxes, and other devices can be damaged. Fire ants also nest in housings around electrical and utility units. The ants move soil into these structures, which causes shorting and other mechanical problems. Overall, fire ants cause an estimated $11.2 million in damages to electrical equipment annually in Texas.

If you discover a nest of fire ants in your electrical equipment, contact an electrician or a licensed pest control operator. They have the specialized products and training that are necessary to treat these sites safely and effectively.

You can prevent fire ants from infesting your electrical equipment by:

  • Ensuring your yard remains free of imported fire ants by using the Two-Step Method (applying baits to entire yard and then treating individual, nuisance mounds) or other control method in heavily infested areas. In areas with just a few ant mounds (5 or more per 1/4 acre lawn), treat them individually to help preserve native ants.
  • Being extremely careful when using any insecticide around electrical equipment. Always be sure to carefully read and follow label directions.

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Ants occasionally feed on vegetable plants in home gardens. They tunnel into potatoes underground and feed on okra buds and developing pods. The worst damage usually occurs during hot, dry weather. Ants may also be a nuisance to gardeners during weeding and harvesting.

Management Options

  • Granular products containing carbaryl plus metaldehyde are registered for ants foraging in the garden. Products containing diazinon or chlorpyrifos are registered for soil insects in home gardens; they can be applied before planting and may provide some temporary control of foraging fire ants. Follow all preharvest intervals indicated on the label when using a pesticide on and around food plants.
  • Ant mounds can be shoveled out of the garden or treated with very hot water, taking care not to disturb or treat the garden plants. Only a few products containing pyrethrins or rotenone are registered for treating fire ant mounds in vegetable gardens.
  • Since most baits are not registered for use inside gardens, apply baits around the garden perimeter. Foraging ants from colonies both inside and outside the garden will collect the bait and take it to their colonies.
  • To prevent ants from entering a garden, apply diazinon or chlorpyrifos spray or granules around the perimeter of the garden as a barrier, and treat individual mounds near the garden as needed.

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Homes and Buildings

Fire ants from colonies close to homes and other buildings sometimes forage indoors for food and moisture, particularly during the hot, dry, summer months. Entire colonies occasionally nest in wall voids or rafters, sometimes moving into buildings during floods. They are a nuisance and can threaten sleeping or bed-ridden individuals and pets.

Management Options

  • If ants are entering or could enter the home from outdoor colonies, treat mounds near the building using the Two-Step Method or individual mound treatments. A contact insecticide with a long residual, such as chlorpyrifos, diazinon or a pyrethroid, also can be applied as an outside barrier around the base of the structure. Caulking cracks and crevices also may help prevent ant entry.
  • If ants are foraging indoors, use a bait labeled for indoor use as directed. Examples are baits such as abamectin (PT 370-Ascend) or bait stations containing hydramethylnon (MaxForce, Combat) or sulfonamide (Raid Max). Fire ant baits eliminate the colony. Bait products not specifically registered for fire ant control may or may not control them. Alternatively, treat ant trails or infested areas with contact insecticide products registered for such use.
  • Follow trails or foraging ants to find colonies located indoors and treat them with contact insecticide dusts or sprays (containing chlorpyrifos, pyrethroids and others) injected into the nest.

Health Care Facilities

Health care facilities, such as nursing homes, pose a special challenge for fire ant control because patients are often not able to respond to stings or signal that they are being stung by the ants.  Stories appear in newspapers every year reporting patients being stung.  These cases are especially horrific as they can entail suffering for both the patient and family.
Persons responsible for fire ant control around health care facilities should exercise special diligence in their fire ant control efforts.  The following are suggestions for fire ant control in such circumstances:

  • Train nursing staff about the risks associated with fire ants at least annually, preferably at the start of fire ant season in later spring or summer (see training PowerPoint presentation below).
  • Make note of high risk patients and alert the staff and pest management providers of their risk status with respect to fire ants.
  • Facility policies should include the need to immediately report all pest sightings, including fire ants, to nursing stations and pest control providers.  At-risk patients should be immediately moved out of any room where fire ants have been seen until an inspection and treatment can be made.
  • Floors and indoor surfaces where fire ants are found foraging should be cleaned immediately with a detergent or other cleaning agent.  This helps disrupt foraging trail pheromones and discourage fire ants from returning to the room.
  • All pesticide applications in health care facilities should be made by licensed professionals.
  • Treat all grounds surrounding the health care facilities with a broadcast bait, or residual insecticide such as fipronil.  Regularly inspect and treat all areas at least within 20 feet of the building perimeters and treat any mounds found there.  Outdoor inspections should be part of any routine pest management services around nursing homes in areas where fire ants are found.
  • Consider application of a residual insecticide barrier to the outside foundation and soil surface within 1 to 5 feet of the building, especially around wings and rooms where high-risk patients are located.

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Lawns and Other Turf

Fire ants commonly infest lawns, schools yards, athletic fields, golf courses, and parks. In these places, they pose a medical threat to people and animals. Their mounds also detract from the aesthetic value of the landscape.

Management Options:

Two-Step Method. This program provides long-term ant suppression, is best suited to medium or large sized areas, and is relatively inexpensive compared to other options. This approach works best in fully infested areas (five or more mounds for each quarter-acre yard) or where there is little or no concern for preserving native ant species. The goal of this program is to minimize the use of individual mound treatments, which requires using more toxic insecticides than the low toxic baits. (see Two-Step Method for details)

Individual Mound Treatments: This approach is best used in small areas of ornamental turf where there are fewer than five mounds fore each quarter-acre yard or where preservation of native ants is desired. This option selectively controls fire ants, but you should anticipate reinvasion. It generally requires more labor and monitoring than other programs and is not suggested for heavily infested areas. Watch the video.


1. Treat unwanted fire ant mounds using the individual mound treatment of choice. These are applied as dusts, granules, granules drenched with water after application, liquid drenches, baits, or aerosol injections. Home remedies such as ver hot water mound drenches also may be used.

2. Continue treating undesirable mounds that appear, as needed.

Ant Elimination Method. This program eliminates nearly all ants in treated areas. Its effects are more rapid than those of other programs, and reinvasion of treated areas by migrating colonies and mated queen ants is minimized as long as the contact insecticide remains effective. However, it is more expensive and uses more insecticide. This approach is frequently used by commercial applicators.


1. (Optional) Broadcast a bait-formulated insecticide in areas where there are many mounds (more than 20 per acre), or individually treat fire ant mounds. Wait 2 to 3 days after applying a bait before conducting the next step.

2. Apply a contact insecticide to turfgrass every 4 to 8 weeks, or when ant activity is detected. Liquid or granular products that can be evenly applied to an area are appropriate for this. Some product labels instruct the user to spray “ant hills.” although initial surface treatment may not eliminate ants located deep in mounds, routine reapplication will eventually eliminate colonies.

Combination. Any of the three programs can be used on specific sites within a managed area where different levels of fire ant control are desired. On golf courses, for instance, the Ant Elimination Method might be suitable for high use areas such as putting greens and tee boxes. In fairways and rough areas, the Two-Step Method may be sufficient.


Fire ants require water to survive and are often found near creeks, run-off ditches, streams, rivers, ponds, lakes and other bodies of water. If surface water is unavailable, they tunnel down to the water table many feet below the ground.

Every effort must be made to avoid contaminating water with pesticides. Fire ant bait products contain very small amounts of active ingredients and can be applied close to shorelines, but not directly to the water.

To lessen the risk of runoff into waterways, apply baits when ants are actively foraging. Individual mound treatments near water should be made with care, using products such as acephate (Orthene) that have low toxicity to fish. Pyrethrins and rotenone products should be avoided because of their high toxicity to fish. Do not apply surface, bait, or individual mound treatments if rains are likely to occur soon after treatment.

Compost Piles, Mulched Flower Beds, Pavement Cracks

Fire ants invade compost piles and mulched flower beds seeking warmth and moisture. They also nest under cracked pavement, removing dirt from underneath sidewalks and roadways and aggravating structural problems. Colonies in these sites may be difficult to locate precisely. When the exact location of a fire ant colony is unknown, treat the area of greatest ant activity with a fast action bait product such as hydramethylnon (Amdro, Combat).

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