Excerpts from Steve
Tvedten's book "The Best Control
(Used here with permission.)
INTELLIGENT PEST MANAGEMENT® - ALTERNATIVE CONTROLS OF FIRE ANTS
Fire ants, particularly Red and Black Imported Fire Ants, pose a serious dilemma. On the one hand, there can be no doubt that the fire ant is a major pest, stinging people, pets and livestock, disfiguring the landscape, even attacking native animals. In one private preserve, imported fire ants were killing hatchlings of the brown pelican, a threatened species. On the other hand, aggressive insecticide (poison) treatment of critical habitat can have a greater negative impact on a sensitive environment, and volatile, synthetic insecticide poisons have never proven to really control fire ants anywhere - there generally are more fire ants after an aggressive poison campaign than before. So why use these volatile and useless poisons?
Fire ant management consists of a series of questions and decisions: What fire ant species are in the area? How extensive is the infestation? What can be done to control these pests in neighboring areas? How high is the risk that people, pets or animals will be stung? How much damage are the fire ants doing? Is control action justified? What are the best strategies of control? Answering these questions requires proper inspection and monitoring to determine the nature and extent of the problem. You must destroy the queen(s)!
Water Controls - Carefully make a hole in the mound first.
Boiling water has been added to individual fire ant mounds with varying degrees of success reported. Approximately 3 gallons of hot water poured into each mound will eliminate about 60% of the mounds treated. Surviving mounds will need to be treated again. Water has also been applied as steam, using a steam generator, e.g., Vapor Dragon®, usually on a cool day. Both techniques are cumbersome in the field, especially where large numbers of mounds are involved. We suggest slowly flooding with 3 gallons of diluted Kleen Kill® enzymes (8 oz. - 16 oz.) with or without citrus oils and/or Kleen Kill® peppermint soap (3 oz.), or try using one gallon of orange/grapefruit juice, 2 gallons of water and a dash of dish soap or Kleen Kill® peppermint soap on a sunny but cool day - your success rate will greatly improve.
Area-wide flooding or prescribed burning of fire ant infested areas has proved ineffective, and may actually promote the establishment of new colonies.
Fire ant mounds can be dug up and moved or destroyed, but not without some risk that the fire ants will successfully catch and attack the digger. Talcum powder dusted on shovels and equipment will help prevent fire ant contact. Dragging, shallow discing, driving over or repeatedly knocking down fire ant mounds may provide a limited level of control, but only if mounds are dragged or disced, or driven over just before the first hard freeze. Even tall, hardened mounds can be destroyed by pulling a steel I-beam drag, weighing about a ton, behind a tractor across the fire ant-infested area. Mechanically distrubing or even destroying fire ant mounds during the warm season will usually not reduce the number of active mounds; ants quickly and simply rebuild them. Fields that are annually tilled have fewer fire ant mounds than non-tilled fields because of the continuous mechanical disturbance from conventional tillage practices.
A number of mechanical mound pulverizers, ant electrocuters, even nest exploders, have been developed for fire ant control, but so far the effectiveness and practicality of these alternative devices has not been proven.
Electrical fields and/or impulses seem to attract fire ants; use this attraction to lure fire ants to your borax or boric acid baits or talcum powder or traps. Solar powered yard lights can be adapted to provide electrical current for a field attractant.
Prevention and Sanitation and Habitat Reduction
Remove mulch, food sources, garbage, manure, fruits and nuts, debris, pieces of lumber, old equipment, weeds and grass; elevate bee hives; caulk and seal or fill with aerosol foam insulation all open voids, cracks, crevices; quickly remove dead animals and hay bales; regularly mow and trim and lightly dust with talcum powder or Comet® smear petroleum jelly or Tanglefoot® where you want to keep them out.
Some Biological Controls
A number of biological enemies of the fire ants have been evaluated as biocontrol agents, including nematodes, bacteria, fungi, viruses, and microsporidia., but biological control has not yet a proven effective control tactic for fire ants. Some show promise, for example, the workerless parasite ant, Solenopsis daguerrrei (Santchi) formerly Labauchena daguerrei was first discovered infecting colonies of the imported fire ant, Solenopsis ricteri (Forel) (formerly Solenopsis saevissima variety ricteri) in Argentina. This permanent parasite kills the host colony by decapitating the queens. While scarce in South American they (S. daquerrei) might be able to propagate better here as a biological control agent. Pseudacteon Parasitiod flies (Dipteria: Phoridae) parasitize the red imported fire ant Solenopsis invicta (Buren). There are at least four (4) species P.litoralis, P.wasmanni, P.tricucpic and P.curvatus that have been described. P.curvatus has also been found ovipositing on the native North American fire ant, Solenopsis geminata (F). So far, one of the most effective of these is a nematode, Neoaplectana carpocapsae. In trials, one application has inactivated about 80% of treated mounds in 90 days. The straw itch mite, Pyemotes tritici, has also been shown to inactivate fire ant mounds. Three to ten applications at about two week intervals gave 70% control. Practical use of this mite for fire ant control must await the development of more efficient methods of mass production and increased effectiveness. Another problem is that this mite is a pest of people and animals; it bites and a causes dermatitis. There is one parasite (Phorid) fly from Brazil that researchers in Gainesville, Florida have been researching to see how effectively it will control non-native fire ant species. Sanford Porter, et al, 1997 noted that Pseudaeteon tricuspic (Borgmeier) has been developed successfully on Solenopsis invicta and a hybrid Solenopsis ricteri xs invicta from Mississippi. This fly and its cogener, Pseudacteon litoralis (Borgmeier) have the peculiar habit of decapitating their living host and using the ants empty head capsule as a pupal case. The fly takes 4 - 6 weeks to develop from egg to adult. They live only to attack and kill fire ants.
Fire ants, like other ants, may be nesting near buildings and can enter and move through a structure through innumerable tiny cracks and openings. Caulking and foaming with aerosol insulation or otherwise sealing cracks and crevices and areas being used by fire ants can often have great effect in suppressing the population inside. If it is not safe or possible to caulk and/or to foam, dust with talcum or medicated body powder. Many effective, easy-to-use silicon sealers or caulks and expandable aerosol foam insulation products have been recently developed, including some designed specifically for pest management.
The most effective measure for preventing fire ant injury to people is education. Activities should be directed away from highly infested fire ant areas. People should be informed about the habits of fire ants, how to recognize them, and how to avoid them. People should be encouraged to use proper sanitation so that fire ants are not attracted to such sites as picnic areas. And if the worst happens, information should be available on what to do if a person is stung.
(Web Mistress Note: A little license was taken with title and some emphasis. However, the content is correct as it appears in "The Best Control)