Fire ants have been laying low this summer, retreating to the cool of their homes deep in the soil. But as the days grow cooler, fire ants find renewed vigor.
It may be hard to see the good news in reactivated fire ants. Active fire ants often swarm onto people who venture too close to their nests. They inflict many stings at once that can fester and stay painfully inflamed for days.
Red Imported Fire Ant
"Fire ants are both closer to the soil surface and more actively foraging for food when daytime temperatures are between 70 and 85 degrees," said Sparks, an Extension Service entomologist with the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.
Both traits are important. If you're using a contact or drench insecticide treatment on a single fire ant mound, Sparks said, it's critical to do it when the queen and brood are close to the surface. And if you use any kind of fire ant bait, you have to put it out when the ants are foraging for food.
Actively foraging ants will pick up a bait and carry it into the nest within minutes, she said. That's important. If the ants don't find the bait quickly, it will become rancid and unattractive to them.
"If you put a bait out when it's too hot or cold," she said, "it's just going to sit there."
The window for treating fire ants in the fall is narrow, though. As the fall deepens and winter drops temperatures below the ants' ideal range, they move back down in their nests and become less active again.
Sparks said treatments to get rid of fire ants vary greatly, hinging on specific needs. County Extension agents have the expertise, she said, to suggest the best treatments for individual situations.
Just call the Extension office and explain how many mounds you have and where they are. The county agent can tell you which of the many treatments would be best for you.
(Dan Rahn is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)