Here is an article I wrote: In commiseration...
Fire Ants: A Vent
When it comes to bugs, I am their champion. I will go out of my way to save a spider or moth in the house. My husband has made fun of me several times for removing plant devouring caterpillars from the garden and placing them on native stands of plants (that is the nice way of saying "putting them in the weeds"). Although, I will not hesitate to squash a roach and be rid of those hideous things, I still feel the need to justify removing one of God's creatures by making excuses for their execution. There is only one creature for which I have no remorse in its death. My sworn enemy is the most loathsome of all, the fire ant, whom I collectively hate. It actually goes deeper than hate, if that is possible. They seem so vicious in the way that they bite for no apparent reason and will curl up in joy as they dig into my skin. Unlike other insects or creatures that bite as a last resort, fire ants seem to seek out their innocent victims and spread their malice with glee.
With the torrential rains this week, my yard is covered in water. So, naturally all of the ants in my yard are playing King-of-the-Hill and finding the highest possible place to escape their imminent death by drowning. Luckily for me, my car became the Noah's Ark for what seems to be a very large and extremely angry colony of fire ants. So, while driving down the highway today with ants crawling from an unseen source and venting their frustrations on my feet, I began wondering exactly what place these odious little demons play in the food chain. Do ant eaters make good pets?
There are many types of fire ants but the little buggers that ruin a good barefoot walk in the grass (or a ride in my car this week) are called Solenopsis invicta. Although it is not known when these ants were brought to North America, they were stowaways on a ship that came into Mobile, Alabama from South America. In Brazil they are called "lava pe" which translates to "wash feet", a very fitting name for them. There were two infestations, a black fire ant and later a red one. The red ant has been more prolific than its black cousin and set up shop in the south to make our lives a little less enjoyable. Scientists think they made their appearance sometime in the 1920's. There is a breed of fire ant that is native to Texas and is not as mean as those we know in Georgia. The native ants are larger, less aggressive with heads that are larger than their abdomens and they impede the spread of their smaller headed cousin who has a much nastier attitude.
These ants are thought to be responsible for the dwindling numbers of some lizards whose young cannot escape being devoured by fire ants. The horny toad population in Texas is one such unfortunate species. So the fire ants are making a negative impact on native ecology. I have heard tales from Texas ranchers about calves being born near ant hills and the ants killing the calf before it learns to stand. I have to wonder why there has not been a B horror film about an ant invasion, they are definitely more ferocious than birds or spiders. Researchers at Texas A&M are working on natural means of controlling these pests. One of these projects involves the possible introduction of the phorid fly. This tiny fly can fit into the space between Lincolns upper lip and nose on a penny.
The knowledge of what phorid flies do to fire ants gives me a perverse sort of pleasure, they begin by swarming over a pile or ant trail. When they select an ant according to size, they fly down and inject their egg into the thorax of the ant, the attack only takes a fraction of a second. This leaves the ant a bit disoriented for a minute then it goes about its business. This is where it really gets good…the egg will continue to develop in the thorax for about 10 days. At this time it will move up into the head of the ant. The head will then fall off and the larvae will go through the pupae stage in the remains of the ants head. The whole cycle takes about 45 days. Phorid flies are showing in labs to be very specific to this certain type of ant and require the ant to reproduce. They are not interested in humans, only fire ants. Ants will become very distracted when these flies are swarming above and this distraction will give other ants the opportunity to move back into territory that was taken over by fire ants. It is important to maintain our native species of ants while doing what we can to eliminate the invasive fire ants.
Another hero in the battle against the ants is the armadillo. I was surprised to learn that they do more than dig holes and become road kill. The armadillo is related to the ant eater who cannot survive in our climate. I have a newly found soft spot in my heart for these hard shelled ugly animals. While it seems neither will make a good pet, I will be more appreciative of the holes they leave in my yard, it could have been an ant pile.
So what can you do if these creatures invade your garden? For fire ants in your lawn, there are some effective organic controls. I have heard of homeowners having success with using grits on the mounds. It is said that they will eat the grits which will expand in their digestive system and cause them to explode. In a recent Georgia Organics publication, an author recommends mixing boric acid into peanut butter (fire ants prefer protein over sugars) and making balls of this mixture which are then dropped onto mounds. Orange oil is another organic product which has been shown to be effective in controlling these pests, 1.5 ounces of orange oil mixed into 1 gallon of water and a few drops of soap which is then poured onto mounds is the recommended dose.
For large areas, abamectin is a derived from a soil microorganism and is considered safer than most other chemicals which can be applied to infested areas. Abamectin baits can be applied to large areas and will affect their nervous system, no exciting explosions or heads falling off but on a large scale, I will take some nerve damage and be pleased. Be sure to follow directions for use and do not over use this product in a zealous attempt to rid the world of man eating ants, there is little we can do to completely get rid of them. Ants will quickly move back into their previously evicted homes. However, we can make it less desirable for them to establish an empire in our yard. So, keep fighting the good fight against these vindictive pests and may the force be with you in their eradication from our paths. If you have found an organic completely effective way of getting rid of my sworn enemy, the fire ant, please give me a call Shannon at Deep Roots Nursery 534-5001 or email us at [email protected]