Unleashed: Controlling fire ants in south Louisiana

Every week, Unleashed encourages Baton Rougeans to learn about, appreciate and enhance the lives of the animals and insects who share our world. Not kill them. This blog is an exception.

There really isn’t much good to say about fire ants except this: They are excellent predators and help control pests such as fleas and ticks in lawns, LSU AgCenter Horticulturist Dan Gill says.

But that benefit is largely outweighed by their painful stings and menacing mounds cluttering the Louisiana landscape. So, most Baton Rougeans would be happy to live fire ant free.

“Eradicating the fire ant in Louisiana is about as likely as doing away with the mosquito or the cockroach,” Gill says. “With persistence and the correct application of insecticides, fire ants can be controlled. But no treatment will eradicate them from a yard permanently.”

In preparing for this backyard battle, the best strategy is to gather intelligence on the enemy. That means first acknowledging those tactical maneuvers are doomed to fail. Gill reports:

• Spreading grits on a fire ant mound will only feed them or make them move.
• Placing orange or grapefruit peel on a fire ant mound only makes the ants move to another spot.
• Shoveling one mound on top of another in an attempt to force the ants to kill each other is not effective.

Fortunately, there are a variety of ways to effectively control fire ants. Determining the right strategy depends upon individual preferences and circumstances. Before purchasing any product, Gill suggests you read the label carefully, understand the directions and are comfortable handling the contents.

Common treatment methods

Listed from the easiest and least toxic to more advanced preparations:

1. Boiling water
Pouring two to three gallons of very hot, almost-boiling water into the hill eliminates about 60% of the mounds treated. Scalding hot water not only has the potential to be hazardous to humans but to kill any grass and plants it contacts. Surviving mounds will need to be treated again.

2. Organic controls
Organic gardeners approve of a few active ingredients (such as boric acid, pyrethrin, rotenone, citrus oil extract and diatomaceous earth) used in fire ant control products. Diatomaceous earth kills some ants. But, it rarely eliminates colonies when used alone, and accidental inhalation of its natural silica-based dust can be hazardous to humans.

3. Baits
Baits are a combination of insecticide and fire ant food material. Foraging ants bring the bait back to the colony and feed to other ants, including the queen. While you can apply bait to individual mounds, Gill advocates spreading it over the entire yard. For maximum effect, LSU AgCenter research proves canvassing entire neighborhoods yields the best results.

4. Dusts
Some products (such as those containing acephate) are applied as a dry dust. After the dust is distributed evenly over the undisturbed mound, ants walking through the treated soil get the dust on their bodies and transport the insecticide into the mound. Within a few days, the entire colony usually dies.

5. Mound drenches
Other insecticides used to control fire ants are mixed with water and then applied to the mound as a drench. Within a day, these liquid mound drenches can kill the ants underground; but, they must be applied in sufficient volume to penetrate the entire nest.

6. Granules
Granular products offer another method of getting insecticide into fire ant mounds. Unless the product completely penetrates the mound, ants will move to a different site through underground foraging tunnels to avoid the insecticide.

Complete information on fire ants is available in Managing Imported Fire Ants in Urban Areas, a free publication from LSU AgCenter available online at lsuagcenter.com.

Creature feature

After you defeated the Red Menace—or at least reclaimed most of your territory–you may be ready for a new furry companion. Capital Area Animal Welfare Society (CAAWS) has plenty of adorable adoptables including:

FelixFelix is a 2-year-old husky/shepherd mix with a fluffy coat and soulful eyes.




HopeAt 2 years old, Hope is an entertaining, bold little lady. She loves to play with her toys and feline friends in her foster home. But there’s nothing she adores more than the company of a humans.



SassySassy is a 1-year-old Siamese mix.




SpringsteenSpringsteen is a 6-month-old male schnauzer mix.




CruellaCruella is a 1-year-old female heeler mix.




NibblesNibbles is content to lounge on a cat tree and observe the world. However, this low-maintenance guy is just as happy to snuggle with a human friend or chase a toy.

All these pets have been spayed/neutered, vaccinated, heartworm tested and microchipped. Many other adoptable dogs, puppies, cats and kittens are available through Capital Area Animal Welfare Society.