This is my fault. I deserve this. By ignoring the yard for
two years a brief hiatus, I turned my back for two years a minute and the fire ants took that as a Welcome Home sign.
If you don’t live in the southern US, you may be less familiar with these tiny instruments of torture. This is not like when you forgot to put the pizza box in the fridge and the next morning, there was a line of cute, benign insects marching through the dorm. Those are what we in Texas call sugar ants. Or black ants. Or ants.
Fire ants (Solenopsis Invicta) are different. These demon’s spawn, also called Red Imported Fire Ants, migrated accidentally from South America to Australia, New Zealand, several Asian and Caribbean countries and the United States. They are mostly red, but the back end is black. They chew through nearly any material and love to nest where you least want them: lawn, house walls, bathtub faucets…
Their reputation, however, is all about their venom. First you feel a small sting. Then it grows. Then it starts to burn. Soon you’re scrabbling at a square centimeter of skin with the urgency of a four-year-old who has to pee. You immediately flick off the itty bitty black speck that is the epicenter of the flame and there is relief–for a second or two. Now the area turns red. It swells. It itches. And finally, you have been initiated into the All Fire Ants Must Die club. You can enjoy the pustule that forms later, but for now, we must plot the downfall of S. Invicta.
Getting to Know Fire Ants
They suck. That’s about it.
If you must have more details, you can find them under the large mounds conveniently arising throughout your manicured grass. They also love to take over trash cans, compost bins, electrical outlets, and if you sweat at night, you may wake up to find them in your hair. (Not making that up. Wear a cap.)
If fire ants weren’t such a problem, one could admire their resourcefulness and innovation. In the wake of Hurricane Harvey hitting the Texas coast this weekend, this tweet showed why nothing stops their spreading path.
Making Ants Feel Welcome — to Leave
Enemy of My Enemy
Since I hate ants, I also love whatever they hate. Therefore, I have compiled a list of my favorite things to offer these intruding guests.
- Orange oil
- Peppermint oil
- Tea tree oil
- Corn meal
- Cayenne pepper
- Boiling water
You’ll notice these are almost all organic items. Having pets and young children, we prefer to keep the balance of nature away from chemicals. Plus several of these non-chemical controls make the area smell great! (Maybe not the vinegar or boiling water.)
I want to make it perfectly plain that the ants started this conflict. This not a pre-emptive strike; those guys invaded my home, and since I pay the mortgage, they have to go! Therefore, the plan must be for total eradication, but without causing harm to those who are a welcome part of the yard’s ecology. Think long-term, deadly micro-accuracy, and a residue to keep them from coming back. Therefore, it’s time to start testing insecticide recipes that won’t harm the living things that we like.
Tip: That first explosion when you disrupt the anthill will be surprisingly expansive, so wear closed shoes and step back from the show. Otherwise you’ll be running back into the house with anti-itch cream on your mind.
We tried a few recipes, but the results were mixed.
Nope. We sprinkled it liberally, waited 24 hours, then wet the stuff. And what happened? Nothing.
Now we’re seeing some results. We sprayed 9 parts water, 1 part orange oil all over the area. After 24 hours, we were discouraged by the new soil piled up around the mound. The only result seemed to be getting these guys to burrow in more…until we looked closer.
Those are the bodies of the dead ants that the surviving workers removed from the area. We found piles like this all around the perimeter of the mound, which inspired immediate desire to make even more piles of dead ants.
By the third recipe, we finally found a winner!
The experiment only lasted three or four days, which was not nearly long enough to enjoy their discomfort. In the end, the Ant Slayer recipe is our favorite, especially since there is already another ant mound over by the rosemary bush. Now that Hurricane Harvey has passed by, we’re keeping this stuff on hand as the ants burrow back out from the storm.