A group of ants standing around a white object.

Overcoming Fire Ants

They might be small, but fire ants have a big impact in Texas and across the South. Once inside your home, they are a hazard to your health and property.

Why fire ants are a big problem

The FDA estimates Americans spend more than $5 billion annually on medical treatment, damage and control of fire ants, with $1.2 billion being spent in Texas, according to Texas A&M University. In the southeastern United States, 60 percent of people living in fire ant-infested areas are stung each year.

According to extension.org, “Fire ants frequently infest electrical equipment. They chew on insulation and can cause short circuits or interfere with switching mechanisms. Fire ants also nest in housings around electrical and utility units. The ants move soil into these structures, which causes shorting and other mechanical problems. Overall, fire ants cause an estimated $11.2 million in damages to electrical equipment annually in Texas. If you discover a nest of fire ants in your electrical equipment, contact an electrician or a licensed pest control operator. They have the specialized products and training that are necessary to treat these sites safely.”

Beyond the economic impact, fire ants are scary. Those who have been stung know it is something they don’t want to experience again.

How to keep them out of your home

The Oklahoma State Division of Agricultural Sciences offers these recommendations for keeping fire ants out of your home:

•Be sure to clean up food and drink spills and keep stored foods tightly sealed.

•Seal gaps around your windows and under your walls to close any points of entry.

•Fix any leaks inside your home and don’t let exterior faucets drip. Fire ants require moisture, not necessarily soil. Laundry rooms are especially vulnerable entry points.

•Double check when you bring something in from outside, like a plant or a toy, that there are no hitchhikers.

•Feed your pets away from the house and clean up uneaten food as soon as possible.

•Don’t put mulch next to the house.

An ant infestation in your yard is also a big problem because getting rid of them is difficult and their presence is a threat to people and pets that might be outside.

What to know about DIY treatments

Once ants are in your home or yard, it is important to act quickly to keep them from taking over.

Many people’s first stop for pesticides is a home remedy. Unfortunately, home remedies are often ineffective, or even can make the problem worse. Wizzie Brown is a pest management specialist for AgriLife Extension in Travis County. For years she has tested fire ant control myths that included such things as club soda and coffee grounds and even cinnamon. She noted that her tests showed that applying those substances on ant hills had no effect.

Why it’s smart to hire a professional

According to Texas A&M, “Fire ants can’t be eliminated entirely because it’s not possible to treat all areas that are infested. Thus the goal of current integrated pest management programs is to suppress fire ants as much as possible with biological control methods and use insecticides only where it is economically and environmentally justifiable to do so.”

In other words, trying to defeat the fire ant scourge yourself is likely destined for failure. Another disadvantage to tackling an ant problem on your own is that every day you spend trying to do it yourself that doesn’t work is another day that you are exposing your family to the risks of fire ants.

If you have an ant problem, your best bet is to call a pest control professional. They deal with fire ant problems on a regular basis, so they have the experience to handle the problem effectively. They are also licensed to have access to chemicals and treatment options not available to homeowners.