Fire ants are back

This mound of fire ants attacks the stick as though it was a predator.

They’re back! After the well needed rains, little mounds of soil have sprung up everywhere. When they are disturbed one will find ants everywhere in these mounds. Most of these mounds are fire ants. Whether they are the imported fire ant or our native fire ant it is hard to tell.

Ants are social insects that live in colonies or nest, in which remain the egg-laying queens, the larvae, pupae and many young ants. The workers are sterile females, which care for the queen and young, defend the colony and forage for food.

Ant nests consist of underground tunnels and chambers. When it rains these chambers fill with soil that has to be removed by the workers. They will work feverish until all the soil is removed. This is why the mounds can appear overnight after a rain.

Usually in the spring or early summer ant colonies produce winged males and females, which have the potentialities for starting new colonies. After mating the males or kings die. Many of these colonies are unsuccessful.

The natural migration of imported fire ants started moving across the Texas-Oklahoma border in 1985 and colonies have become well established in Comanche County. The first colonies were found at Fort Sill after a load of infected plants was planted around new buildings. Other plants were brought into Lawton starting the population we see now. These ants have infested lawns, schoolyards, athletic fields and parks.

Oklahoma has always had the native fire ant. The imported fire ant is more aggressive than the native ant and can inflict an extremely painful bite. An entomologist can only determine the different.

A field test that works many times is to take a stick and disturb the nest. If the ants attack the stick, they are likely imported fire ants. If they run over the stick and everywhere without attacking the stick, they are native fire ants.

The fire ant eats almost any plant or animal matter. They prefer the higher protein foods so most controls are directed to their food supply. Since fire ants are foragers, they hunt for food and bring it back to the nets.

Contact poisons that are on the market just cause the colony to move away. A well-developed colony can be as deep as 30 feet and spread out some 20 to 30 feet from the mound’s center. Getting the contact poison to the queen is almost impossible.

Baits such as Amdro, Combat, Maxforce Fire Ant Killer Baits are inexpensive, easy to use and are safe. Apply these baits around the colony, avoid disturbing the mound, so that the workers will take the bait back to the nets, hopefully killing the queen. Since most of these products have a fatty base, they do not keep, so they should be used up after the package is open.

But there is a new twist to killing fire ants. Walter Reeves from the University of Georgia Agriculture Department, has discovered a new way to control fire ants. Fire ants are picky eaters and any type of poisons that is effective takes seven feeding steps before the queen receives it. Plus, if the baits are stored near any petroleum or fertilizer products, they won’t touch it.

According to Reeves, an environmentally friendly cure for fire ants is simply pouring two cups of club soda (carbonated water) directly in the center of a fire ant mound. The carbon dioxide in the water is heavier than air and displaces the oxygen which suffocates the queen and other ants. The whole colony will be dead in about two days. Besides eliminating the ants, club soda leaves no poisonous residue, does not contaminate the environment and is safe around pets and children.

Jim Coe lives in Lawton.

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