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Invasive Insects

Fire Ants

There is much information on the Internet about fire ants, so I am not going to go into details about their history.  What I want to discuss is how I have encountered them, and what I have learned to do about fire ants.

It has been about 10 years since we first encountered the fire ants in the Charlottes area.  They moved up from the South, and I first saw them over in the Eastland Mall area.  A few years later, they were at my office on Monroe Road, and then another year of so later I found them at my home near Freedom Park.

Fire ants really hurt and can be dangerous.  My first experience with them was at my office when I was standing outside a small above ground pond.  I had on shorts.  The next thing I knew, I had over 30 fire ants crawling up my left leg and stinging.  Actually, they pull their mandibles together and bite you while at the same time sting you like a wasp.   I was standing right on top of a nest.  The bites are painful and itch like crazy.  You can tell if it is a fire ant because a little pustule will form at the top of each bite.  There is some swelling caused by the formic acid that is injected into the skin.  Some people are allergic to formic acid and can have a sever reaction and go into anaphylactic shock  Apparently, about 6 % of the people bitten by the fire ants have problems like anaphylactic shock and need to be treated at a hospital.  There have been some deaths.

Recently, I had a fire ant nest pop up in my back yard.  There is a vacant lot next door which has had a great number of fire ant colonies so I suppose they come from that location.  I have thought that just staying away from the colony was sufficient to keep from being stung.  That turns out not to be true.  I moved a small potted plant that was 40 feet from the fire ant something stung me. I did notice one ant but thought nothing of it.  I received ten bites all of which developed the typical fire ant blister.  I suspect the one ant caused all the stings which looked more like a rash at first.  The blisters did not appear until that evening and are smaller than normal which is why I think the one fire ant stung me multiple times.  Since I was working in the yard for a few days, I later got a severe bite from another fire ant. Pustule that formed is about four times as large as the multiple stings.

Destroying the fire ant nest

I treated the mound at my office and discovered that another mound resurfaced 20 feet away several days later.  I was told by an entomologist that the fire ants feel vibrations and take the queen down deeper in the ground.  He also said that he felt one of the best methods of killing the colony was to use a low dosage bait that the worker ants will take down into the mound and feed the Queen.  It takes some time for the bait to work, but is a very effective way of destroying the colony.  I used two products and there are many others.  The bait type was called Firestar by Chipco, and the active ingredient is Fipronil which is listed as being only .00015% of the product.   The second product that I used is designed to kill the active mound.  It is Spectridcide’s Fire Ant Killer and the active ingredient is Lambda-Cyhalthrin at .04 percent active ingredient.  Recently I purchased more specticide and see that the active ingredience is Indoxacarb at .016%.  This product is a bait type product and can be applied to the entire yard with a spreader or applied to each individual mound.

One needs to be pretty alert to discover these colonies.  In our area look for a contrasting red clay mound that sticks up above the soil or grass.  If you are unsure, take a stick and scrape a little of the dirt.  Ants will come out and you will know that you have an active fire ant colony.  Leave them alone and move away from the area.  Fire ants are more active in sandy soils and prefer moist areas.  Less commonly they also will nest in meter boxes and electrical boxes on the side of your house.

Further south or toward the coast, the mounds or hills are made of sand and therefore are a different color and texture.  A friend of mind who was on the way to the beach stopped by the road side to let his young child out of the car.  The boy stepped right on top of a fire ant hill, and the rest of the family’s trip was a miserable affair.If you have young children and pets, be aware.

Why you should destroy the fire ant nest

One of the reasons you should destroy the fire ants’ nest is that they can spread rapidly.  In the early spring after a rain hundreds of females and males will fly as high as 300 feet.  They mate and the males fall to the earth dead.  The mated females are then queens and can fly as far away as 5 miles and start a new colony.   The new queen will find a moist area, digs a small hole and seals herself in.  She removes her wings and starts laying eggs. Many of these insects will stay in the same area and you can have many colonies on one property.  The new queen will lay 1500 to 1600 eggs a day and a mature mound can have four million ants in it.  An acre can have 35,000,000 fire ants living in various colonies on the property.

Several years ago I counted about ten colonies on my business property which was a little over 1/2 an acre.  We treated these colonies, and I believe the drought of a few years ago slowed them down.  This year, 2009, we are seeing more fire ant activity

Another note about all the invasive species.

 Fire ants and other invasive species take a lot of effort and tremendous expense to control.  Fire Ants are just one of the invasive species, but feral pigs, kudzu, and thousands of others are serious problems. The United States spends nearly $120 billion a year trying to control invasive species.  By learning about invasive species you will be more knowledgeable about controlling them.

Information below is from North Carolin State University   editing required 

From an agricultural perspective, red imported fire ants are nuisances primarily because they annoy field workers and because their mounds may damage harvesting equipment. Livestock injury and crop damage are usually minor. Fire ants have a much greater impact on the orna-mental plant, sod, and landscaping industries because of problems associated with shipping infested plant material into uninfested areas of the country (see the section entitled "Quarantine Assistance‚ÄĚ). Mounds discovered in previously uninfested areas of North Carolina are frequently traced to landscaping performed at commercial and residential developments. For the general public, two aspects of red imported fire ant infestations are particularly annoying: the unsightly mounds formed in lawns and yards and the painful stings received when mounds are disturbed. Within 24 hours after a person is stung, a pustule-like sore forms at each sting site (as shown here), which usually itches intensively. Scratching the pustule may rupture the skin, leading to secondary infection and scarring. A small proportion of people stung is highly allergic to fire ant stings and requires immediate medical attention. As red imported fire ants spread into more populated areas of the state, more people are likely to be stung. Encounters with fire ants can be expected not only outdoors but indoors as well. In other southern states foraging ants have invaded private residences and buildings such as offices, hospitals, and nursing homes. In these situations, fire ant control is more critical and potentially more difficult because of concerns related to both the ants and the indoor use of chemical insecticides.

Photograph by¬ Danel Wojcik., USDA-ARS



Adult red imported fire ants are reddish to dark brown and occur in five forms: (1) minor workers, about¬ 1/8¬ inch long; (2) major workers, about¬ 1/4¬ inch long; (3) winged males and (4) females, each about¬ 1/3¬ inch long; and (5) queens, about¬ 1/3¬ inch long. Fire ant mounds vary in size but are usually in direct proportion to the size of the colony. For example, a mound that is 2 feet in diameter and 18 inches high may contain about 100,000 workers, several hundred winged adults, and one queen. If you break open an active fire ant mound, you typically find the "brood" - whitish rice grain-like larvae and pupae. These immature ants will eventually develop into workers or winged adults. Mounds constructed in clay soils are usually symmetrical and dome-shaped; mounds built in sandy soils tend to be irregularly shaped. It is often difficult to distinguish the red imported fire ant from the tropical fire ant and the southern fire ant, which are also found in North Carolina. For positive identification, take a specimen to your county¬ Cooperative Extension Center.



During the spring and summer, winged males and fe-males leave the mound and mate in the air. After mating, females become queens and may fly as far as 10 miles from the parent colony. However, most queens descend to the ground within much shorter distances. Only a very small percentage of queens survive after landing. Most queens are killed by foraging ants, especially other fire ants. If a queen survives, she sheds her wings, burrows into the ground, and lays eggs to begin a new colony. In the late fall, many small colonies of fire ants will appear. Many of the colonies will not survive the winter unless the weather is mild.

Feeding Habits

Fire ants prefer oily and greasy foods. They also feed on many other insects and, from that standpoint, could be considered beneficial. To find food, workers forage around their mound often in underground tunnels that radiate from the mound. If the mound is disturbed, ants swarm out and sting the intruder.


Click on image to see pictures of a typical¬ 
fire ant colony

¬ Fire ant mounds are typically found in
open areas that receive direct sunlight
Mound in clay soil have more of a dome shape.

Mound in sany soils are often more irregular.



Because fire ants cannot be eradicated over wide areas, the goal should be to¬ manage¬ the ants with a combination of chemical and non-chemical control tactics in order to eliminate fire ants in areas where they pose the most immediate hazard to people, pets and livestock, and to reduce infestations to "acceptable" levels. Options for control depend on the setting (e.g., agricultural fields, pastures, home lawns, schools, etc.).
3521 Monroe Rd, Charlotte, NC 28205
Phone: 704.618-621
 Charlotte, NC 28205
Phone: 704.618-621