While pondering the subject for this column, I went outside and mowed my yard because it looked like it was getting ready to rain again.
As I was mowing, I saw the typical “post-rain” fire ant mound and that was the inspiration I needed.
Since red fire ants came to this area in the 1950s, accidentally imported from South America and landing in Alabama in the 1930s, they have spread over at least two-thirds of eastern Texas and have become quite the ongoing problem for homeowners, ranchers and our native ants, which in turn affects other native species and throws off the balance of our local ecosystems.
Fire ants are so difficult to eradicate because thousands of queens are produced in each colony and can be dispersed by flying, landing on vehicles, transported in nursery plants, in run-off water, etc.
It is also very difficult to poison fire ants on a large scale, so they continued to successfully breed and spread over the last six decades.
According to Austin entomologist Wizzie Brown, treatment for fire ants is a management issue and not an eradication solution.
She agrees that research is leaning toward a two-step program where we treat our land by broadcasting a “bait” in hopes that it finds and kills the queen and then treat individual mounds as they appear. Brown suggests broadcasting in both the spring and fall for best results.
Also, working with neighbors and treating mounds simultaneously increases the rate of success.
I won’t make any particular suggestions as far as specific chemicals, but there are many out there that work quite well. Most home remedies, such as club soda, coffee grounds, boiling water and grits, have been tested and found lacking.
There are a few organic treatments, such as spinosad and citrus oil extract, that have limited success.
This two-step process gives people an 80 percent to 90 percent control rate, the best outlook at this point.
There is ongoing research, including the release of a fly from South America that feeds on fire ants.
Hopefully in time, there will be a solution to eradicating the fire ant once and for all.
Darla Horner Menking is a Texas Master Gardener and Master Naturalist. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org