Entomology and Plant Pathology

Fire Ants - Inside the House!

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Favorable Conditions?

One serious problem that seems to be on the increase in Oklahoma is the invasion of homes and businesses by red imported fire ants. As the temperature rises and conditions become dry during the Oklahoma summer, fire ants enter homes in search of food and water. This can cause problems ranging from the nuisance of finding ants in stored foods and potted plants to the real danger of stings-particularly multiple stings when fire ants climb onto sleeping inhabitants.

Several conditions can contribute to fire ant problems inside homes:

  • Poor sanitation. Be sure to clean up food and drink spills, and keep stored foods tightly sealed. Do not dump kitchen waste in your lawn close to the house, as this will attract foraging ants. 
  • Poor construction practices. Fire ants can gain access to home interiors through a variety of entryways. In our experience in Oklahoma, fire ants commonly enter through poorly sealed windows. In one case, a child had left food scraps between the interior and exterior windows-so check the windows in your child's room! Fire ants also enter through gaps under walls, and through holes for wiring and plumbing. Sometimes the problem area can be located by searching for small piles of soil or sand, since fire ants frequently carry those materials indoors at points of entry. If points of entry are found, be sure to seal them tightly or call a contractor if the problem calls for it. 
  • Moisture problems. In some rare cases, fire ants nests can be found in very unusual situations, such as roofs of buildings or in wall voids. Fire ants do not necessarily require soil for a suitable nesting site-but they do require a certain amount of moisture. Be sure to fix leaks in your home (especially in plumbing in the wall voids) and make sure exterior faucets do not drip, to avoid attracting fire ants. Be certain that your roof drains properly. 
  • Movement of plants. Potted plants are an oasis for red imported fire ants during hot and dry Oklahoma summers. Many people move plants in and out of the house. When bringing plants in, be very careful not to bring in pots that contain fire ants. 
  • Movement of toys and other objects. Be careful when bringing most any object in from outside your home. Fire ant colonies will build their nests up into cavities in molded plastic toys and other hollow objects. A quick inspection before carrying things inside can pay off. 
  • Pet food. Your pet's food can be a good attractant for fire ants. Store pet food in tightly sealed containers. If possible, feed your pets away from the house, and clean up uneaten food as soon as possible. 
  • Mulch. Heavily mulched areas adjoining your home may provide an attractive habitat for fire ants to nest.

 

What can I do about fire ants in the house?

As with many pest problems, prevention is the best cure for fire ants in the home. The "Homeowner's Two-step Guide" for fire ant control will give you tips for decreasing the ant population around your home. It is important to remember that fire ants can forage (travel in search of food and water) a relatively great distance from their nest-so simply treating your yard, if it is fairly small, will not guarantee that ants will not enter your home. If fire ants are not already in your home, check the items listed above to see how your situation stacks up. Address moisture problems if they exist.

If you already have fire ants entering your home, and you believe the ants are nesting in a wall void or other part of the structure, you may want to enlist the help of a qualified Pest Control Operator, who has access to quick-kill injectible insecticides. If you simply have fire ants entering and/or foraging in your home, you can do the following:

  • Before applying any pesticides, if possible, locate the point of entry so that you can take steps to seal it later on. Be careful not to get stung-your first concern should be for the safety of yourself and your children, if present. 
  • Use any over-the-counter contact insecticide labeled for indoor use against ants to kill workers already present in the home. Take care when applying products to fabrics, etc., as some may stain. DO NOT use outdoor baits (Amdro, Logic, Extinguish, etc.) indoors as these will only attract more foraging ants. If the ants are not an immediate threat inside your home, you may wish to use a bait registered for indoor use against fire ants (MaxForce, Combat, Raid Max). If you use an indoor bait, do not use contact insecticides or otherwise disturb the ants. 
  • Locate the colony outside, if possible. Carefully inspect from the point of entry on the exterior of the structure to several feet out into the yard. Remember that colonies will frequently build near structures, and take special care to look at sidewalk edges, bases of shrubs, emerging pipes, etc. 
  • Treat the colony. If you find the infestation during the hot part of the day, it may be best to wait until the following morning to treat, when the ants will be closer to the top of the mound. The best time to individually treat colonies is on a sunny morning following a cool night. Some options for individual mound treatments can be found in the "Homeowner's Two-step Guide". For the fastest results, use an insecticide that can be dissolved in a pre-measured volume of water for drenching the mound, or a granular insecticide that can be watered in. Be sure to consult our "Quick Tips - Some Do's and Don'ts Guide" for best results, or call your certified Pest Control Operator. 
  • Follow up by correcting any contributing factors, sealing points of entry, and applying a bait product in and around your yard to prevent future infestations.    
 
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