Fire Ants in Tennessee

If you are getting out into the garden this time of year then you will likely come across some ants. The ants we all know we do not want to come across are fire ants. Fire ants are some serious pests that will swarm and bite all over you, your children, and your pets if they are agitated.

So what do we know about fire ants and how can they be treated?

Did you know the University of Tennessee’s Extention program has a whole section of their website devoted to fire ants? Yes, it is that big of a deal.

Fire Ants in Tennessee Quarantine Map

The quarantine map for fire ants in Tennessee. Essentially if your county is shaded then you have reports of fire ant activity. Fire ant colonies have slowly been moving north through Tennessee over the last few decades.

What Are Fire Ants?

The red imported fire ant, Solenopsis invicta Buren, the black imported fire ant, Solenopsis richteri Forel, and their hybrid are nuisance insects and their stings can cause serious medical problems. Imported fire ants interfere with outdoor activities and harm wildlife throughout the southern United States. Ant mounds are unsightly and may reduce land values. In some cases, imported fire ants are considered to be beneficial because they prey upon other arthropod pests. In urban areas, fire ants prey on flea larvae, chinch bugs, cockroach eggs, ticks and other pests. In many infested areas, the problems outweigh the benefits and controlling fire ants is highly desirable. However, eradication of this species is not currently feasible (see History and Control Efforts). When deciding whether or not to control fire ants, one must weigh the benefits of fire ant control against the cost and environmental impact of control methods. Consideration of biological control of fire ants may not be compatible with some types of insecticide use. Insecticides are not always 100 percent effective, nor are most approved for use everywhere that ants occur. Insecticides are also expensive and potentially hazardous to the environment and other animals. Chemicals provide only temporary control of fire ants and must be reapplied periodically. Where applicable, you should select programs (for urban or agricultural areas) that use a combination of non-chemical and chemical methods that are effective, economical and least harmful to the environment.

What Do Fire Ants Look Like?

Imported Red Fire Ant in Tennessee

The red fire ant is larger in size than the average ant you will come across. The Red Fire Ant that is common to Tennessee will have a burnt red color and a dark, almost black butt end. Some fire ants you can find will have more of black and red colorings in the butt end. So it’s a good indicator for a fire ant, but you would have to investigate further to determine which type.

How To Treat For Fire Ants?

From the UTExtension program

Pesticidal obstacles to eradication:Pesticide treatments are expensive and time-consuming, and there are only three basic approaches.

  • Surface Treatment using a residual contact poison. This approach is the least environmentally sound because the treated surface remains toxic for a long time. The ants may survive by foraging underground.
  • Individual Mound Treatment, which involves the application of a large volume of pesticide to reach the queen. However, it is nearly impossible to locate all of the colonies in an area, difficult to manipulate large volumes of liquid, and treatment is more expensive and time-consuming than other treatment options. Colonies not eliminated may move or split into several colonies.
  • Bait Treatment, which uses some sort of attractive substance the ants like to eat. Unfortunately, baits are not always consumed, and the bait’s attractiveness is short-lived. The bait must be slow-acting and effective over a range of doses, since the dose the ants get, cannot be controlled. Baits may also be attractive to and kill some native ant species that compete with fire ants.
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