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Red Imported Fire Ants - Take the Mound!

It’s baseball season in America, and Home Paramount is ready to play ball! As you’re watching your favorite team take the pitcher’s mound, we’re ready to take on another type of mound that isn’t nearly as much fun – the fierce fire ant nest.

Red Imported Fire Ants (RIFA) are a headache to homeowners throughout the South, popping up in yards, along sidewalks and even creeping into homes through HVAC systems. They invade playing fields, overtake parks and the reproductive alates can even cause a mess in your swimming pool. Red Imported Fire Ants are notoriously bad neighbors, with a bite-sting combo that can ruin an afternoon outside. They may also find their way indoors, though this is not their preferred habitat. A good exclusion approach to the exterior of the home will help to keep RIFA’s outdoors.

Red Imported Fire Ants are social insects that are all about colony survival, so it’s natural that they would build an extensive nesting zone around the colony to protect the queen. To work together as a colony, different ants are assigned varying tasks creating a caste system. While the queen is responsible for colony reproduction, she has many subjects that provide and care for the immature larvae, build tunnels, protect the colony from invaders, and forage for food. In fact, food is the first imperative for a new colony, shelter is the second. Soon after a newly established queen mates, she will find a sheltered place and take cover to lay eggs.  Typical RIFA colonies have only one queen, although research has discovered an increasing number of multiple-queen colonies among this adaptive species. Once the life cycle of an established colony gets going, newly developed workers will first find food, then get to work on the nest. As industrious workers extend the nest to accommodate an ever-growing colony, an excavated dirt mound begins to develop and eventually becomes visible to passers-by. In the clay soil of North Carolina, the mounds might reach a dimension of 12 x 12 inches. In the sandy soils of Florida, the nests tend to be wider and flatter. Residents of areas infested with RIFA’s soon learn to identify and avoid these dangerous mounds, full of small menaces determined to protect their nest. 

The all-female worker crews use their nest as a home base, but build foraging tunnels that serve as protected workways for the ants to find food and return it to the queen. While many ants will build a single, straight shot up out of their nest Red Imported Fire Ants are more cautious. Multiple subterranean tunnels snake throughout the cavernous dirt nest just below the earth’s surface, and open to the exterior in random intervals. Some tunnels extend well beyond the visible perimeter of the nest, up to 300 feet beyond the mound. To put it in perspective, 300 feet is about the size of an American icon as beloved as baseball, the Statue of Liberty. A considerable distance to forage and good game plan in the event of danger from natural predators or humans. 

Red Imported Fire Ant nests tend to be found in clearings. These are not wood or shade-loving pests, and their biological development prepares them for the defensive imperatives of an open field existence. You are likely to encounter Red Imported Fire Ants in full-sun areas, and usually in cleared lawns and fields. The recreational fields of Jupiter, Florida are a perfect spot for RIFA’s – open, sunny and hot. Similarly, a bright backyard in Wilmington, North Carolina would be an ideal place for a Red Imported Fire Ant colony to call home. 

Some homeowners find that pouring boiling water on the nest is a satisfying DIY pest control strategy. While this has been shown to be somewhat effective, RIFA’s have proven to be resourceful and have evolved over time to protect the queen. A colony will continue to survive and thrive as long as the queen exists, and boiling water is not certain to eliminate the queen or queens, or workers scattered throughout excavated foraging tunnels. Boiling water will provide contact control, but has no residual and will not ensure elimination. This method also carries the risk of serious burns, so proceed with caution.

Don’t strike out! A better approach to RIFA mound control is with the help of a qualified pest professional. Home Paramount’s technicians are a home run when it comes to pest control and well-equipped to identify, understand and manage these unwelcome pests. Let us help to protect your home, and maybe give you a little extra time to catch the game. In the meantime, keep an eye out for RIFA mounds this spring and summer and please call us if you spot these fierce pests in or around your home. We can help!