Red Imported Fire Ants have been an enormous pest problem. First introduced to Mobile, Alabama in the 1940’s, Fire Ants have rapidly spread throughout the southern United States. Their success in the U.S. can be attributed to both their large colony sizes and their aggressiveness in defending their territory and food sources. Since the 40’s, billions of dollars have been spent on Fire Ant research and control efforts, including the development of new control techniques, new chemical products, and even statewide quarantines of infested areas. However, none of these efforts were successful in eradicating Fire Ants from the United States. Despite these extensive control efforts, many claims of simple home remedies for Fire Ant eradication have surfaced, with…’interesting’ explanations of why they ‘work’. None of these methods work because they don’t consider fire ant biology and behavior.
One of the most famous home solutions for fire ant infestations is sprinkling corn grit or instant potato flakes around the nest for ants to pick up and eat. The theory behind this is that an ant will eat this and become engorged or explode as the grits or instant potatoes expand in their gut by absorbing their bodily fluids. This technique fails to consider two aspects of ant biology; how ants eat and how the colony is structured. Adult ants, the workers you see around a colony, do not actually eat any solid food. Solid food, such as insects or instant potatoes, are brought back to the colony to their young, or brood. The soft-bodied brood is known as the ‘stomach of the colony’ and are the only ones able to break down solid food into liquid, which they then share with the rest of the colony. Additionally, even if instant potatoes were lethal to adult ants, the number of ants exposed to them is insignificant to the size of the colony. Because foraging for food is a dangerous task, the foraging ants are the oldest and most expendable members of the colony anyways.
Another popular, albeit dangerous home remedy is pouring diesel or gasoline onto a fire ant mound. The thought behind this is that ants exposed to gasoline or the fumes will die. While this is correct, this will not eliminate an ant colony as it does not take into account how an ant colony is built or how the ants reproduce. Ant colonies are like icebergs, although the exposed top is the most visible, the vast majority of it is out of sight underneath. Fire ants dig down very deep, as far as two meters into the ground. Unfortunately, this is where the queen of the colony spends most of her time, and it is very unlikely that gasoline will reach her or the other ants nesting deep underground. The queen and the surviving ants will simply relocate the colony and begin to rebuild their population. This is the reason many people incorrectly believe their homemade fire ant killer is working. Instead of killing the colony, the ants just move the mound a few yards away. This is the reason all ant control techniques seek to target and destroy the queen. If the queen survives treatment, then so does the colony.
Another aspect to consider in DIY or homemade fire ant remedies is the sheer amount of time, money, manpower, and product testing that have gone into developing specialized chemicals to target the specific biology of ants, it is very unlikely something as simple as grits was overlooked. The best way to rid yourself of fire ants is to use products designed to do just that, and to have those products used by trained professionals.