Florida Landscape Doctor

Fire Ants

The Fire Ants

When the need arises for 100 lawn care companies to meet to discuss the problem you know it can turn into a serious problem. That is what happens in this industry. Fire Ants are a problem.  So much of a problem that Lawsuits have risen over the fire ant stings.

Once a colony is established, a single queen can lay her weight in eggs daily, producing up to 2,000 new ants each day of her two to five year life span. That is per day. Red Imported fire ants were accidentally imported into the United States at the port of Mobile, Alabama in the 1930s. Originally from Brazil, the Fire Ant spread to Florida and other southern states in nursery stock and sod during the 1940s and early 1950s. Today, over 260 million acres in 10 states are infested with this serious pest and the likelihood of greater infestation is great since the fire ant has the potential to establish in areas where the average minimum temperatures are above 10 degrees F and rainfall is greater than 10 inches a year. Ants are one of the most numerous groups of insects found on earth. The fire ants live in large colonies and build dome shaped mounds in open sunny areas like yards and gardens. During very hot or dry weather, fire ants will dig deeply into the soil to find cooler temperatures and water. You can have fire ants present in your yard and not see them until you have a heavy rain and the new mounds or adjustments to the existing mound show up. You can kill a colony one day and another colony can show up the next day from your neighbors’ lawn. It may seem like there are more ants, but the ants already present can also be building a new mound, creating and new colony by splitting the existing colony. Fire ants live in colonies that contain the brood (cream-colored to white immature ants-eggs, larvae, and pupae), 100,000 to 500,000 workers, several hundred winged males and winged females (which are unmated queens), and one or more mated queens. A colony generally lives in an earthen mound which is essentially an incubator for the brood, and the interconnected underground tunnels which radiate out of the ground.  Inside the fire ant mound are worker ants which are wingless, and sterile females that live from one to six months, that are quite active. Older workers are tasked with foraging for food (often at distances of more than 100 feet from the nest) and defending the nest.  Each worker ant can sting repeatedly by gripping the flesh with its toothed mouthparts and piercing the skin with its stinger mounted on its tail-end. Younger workers tend to the brood, moving it up or down in the mound depending on the external temperature, moisture conditions, or invasive predators. The fire ants create a new home constantly. Their control is a continuous and serious problem. They reproduce by mating flights. On warm, sunny mornings after a rain shower, winged males and females fly up into the air from the mound and mate many feet above the ground. The newly mated queens’ drop back to the ground, cut off their wings, and find a nice quiet place to dig a hole and start their own colonies. Male ants die after mating. Fire ants are very aggressive and will protect their mounds from any threat. That includes you stepping on their mound. When the mound is disturbed, they rush out of it in large numbers and will sting anything within their reach. Their control is important. Talk to your local extention agent for help. Ask your local retailer what you can use to combat the problem.

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