Are Fire Ants Good or Bad for Your Home Garden?


In the great scheme of things, fire ants are neither good nor bad. They are simply another of nature’s many creatures. But a person working in their yard or garden only needs to get stung by one of these tiny ants to disagree. The sizzling pain that gives the ant its name is out of all proportion to its size. On top of this, fire ants are one of the few insects that seem to bite or sting for no reason. A person could be standing there on their lawn or patio minding their business and get stung.


Natural History

The scientific name for this ant is Solenopsis Invicta, which, if a person knows a bit of Latin, tells much about them. Though Solenopsis means “face,” Invicta means “invincible.” They do seem invincible to anyone who finds fire ant mounds in their yard or whose homes are visited by the beasts during the summer when they search for food and water. There seems to be no way to get rid of them once and for all, though someone managed to exterminate them near Yuma, Arizona.

Like most ant species, the fire ant colony is made up of worker ants and at least one queen. Queens are the only female ants who are allowed to reproduce. She lays thousands of eggs every day. The eggs are taken care of by the workers. They hatch into larvae, which are also cared for and fed by the workers before they turn into pupae. The pupae hatch into adult ants who know what their place in the colony instinctively.

Fire ants have been in the United States since at least the 1930s. They were accidentally introduced in Mobile, Alabama and are inching their way across the country.


The Good

Fire ants eat anything that they can find and catch. This includes roaches, termites, fleas and ticks, hungry caterpillars and the larvae and eggs of mosquitoes. They eat bugs that attack plants, such as aphids and boll weevils. When they build their nests, they help to aerate the soil, which allows it to receive more oxygen and nutrients. Some gardeners claim that fire ants help pollinate okra in their homes.


The Bad

The bad news about fire ants is all about their sting. It’s not only crazy painful but hurts and itches for a long time and raises a pus-filled blister about a day after it’s administered. They are also murder on livestock, reptiles, birds that nest on the ground and newborn animals that can’t get out of their way fast enough. Mounds can grow very large and damage farm equipment. When an ant colony is breached, tens of thousands of angry ants swarm out of it to find the culprit. Then, they swarm up arms and legs, grab on with their jaws and sting in unison like an orchestra. Fire ant damage costs billions of dollars a year in Texas alone.


What Can be Done?

Though wiping this non-indigenous species out is a long way off, there are fairly effective types of fire ant control. A parasitic phorid fly lays its egg on the head of a fire ant. When the egg hatches, the larvae burrow into the head and eats the connective tissue. Eventually, the ant is decapitated. Contrary to some myths, an ant doesn’t live long without its head. However, this isn’t the best way that phorid flies control fire ant populations. Simply hovering over the colony makes the ant's panic. Because of this, the scattering, blind ants find it hard to forage.

Another thing to do is sprinkle the mounds with poison bait. The ants eat the stuff and die. Better yet, they feed it to the queen. When she dies, the colony is doomed. Scientists believe it takes a few weeks to wipe out a colony with bait. Some people don’t buy bait, which can be a bit pricey, but just use a solution of sugar water and boric acid.

So, it must be concluded that for homes, fire ants are more foe than friend. Just stay out of their way!


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