My War Against Fire Ants

If you follow me on Facebook, you know that I woke up covered in stinging ants a few weeks ago.  Needless to say, it wasn’t a great way to start the day.  I sought out and massacred every ant I could find the moment I was conscious enough to do so.  Then I wondered what kind of ant they had been and IDed them.  Fire ants!  In my house!  In my bed!  But one day of waking up with ants in my bed seemed to be the extent of the problem.  They had disappeared, so I didn’t think much more of it.

vacuum

My favorite non-toxic ant control device! Just suck 'em up with the hose and repeat as needed.

Over 4th of July weekend I went away to visit family.  The day before I drove back home, I received a text from my husband: “Ants have invaded the bathroom.  Thousands of them.  They’re on every f*****g surface.  Please come home tomorrow and save me from the ants.”  I thought my husband was overreacting.  We’ve had winged ants invade our home after the first monsoon rain of every summer for the past 3 years and they’ve never caused any real problems.  I told my husband to suck them up with the vacuum (that’s what I do) and didn’t hear anything more about it, so I figured he’d taken care of it.

But then I got home and saw the ants myself.  It wasn’t the usual post-monsoon home invasion of harmless winged ants.  No, it was a massive invasion of fire ants!  I tried to vacuum them up, but our vacuum had broken.  I didn’t have any bug killers (I don’t use them because we have pets), so I spent 2 hours picking ants up with a paintbrush laced with rubbing alcohol because it was all I had on hand.  I killed several thousand of them.  Then I did it again an hour later.  Then again.  There were too many for me to handle alone and I had been stung many times, so I finally caved and called Terminix (my landlord unfortunately has a contract with them).   That went absolutely nowhere, as usual – no call back, no appointment scheduled.  Nothing.  Meanwhile I still had thousands of mean, stinging ants in my bathroom.

The next morning, things got even worse.  I opened my eyes to the most beautiful, enormous spider hunting wasp I’d ever seen sitting on the screen door in my bedroom, so I prepared to catch and photograph it.  I scared the wasp opening the door, but I ran after it.  15 seconds later, I ran back into the house as fast as I could.  I was COVERED in fire ants and being stung repeatedly.  I squished them all, but I couldn’t believe how many ants were in the yard!  I ended up with about 20 big red welts on my feet and legs where I’d been stung.  My dog Monkey went out later.  He ran back in the same way I had a few seconds later.  I brushed the ants off his legs and officially declared war.  Ants stinging me is annoying.  Ants stinging my dogs means war!

ant control

Fire ant control agents

Because Teminix wasn’t going to solve my ant problem, I turned to the internet for information on how to do it myself.  My department’s integrated pest management people recommended using a poisoned ant bait called Amdro to control fire ants.  Because I have dogs, I am very reluctant to use poisons, but I put it on my list anyway.  I was desperate!  The ants supposedly gather the bait and carry it back to their nests so that all the ants, including the queen, eat the poisoned bait and die.  I looked into natural products and lots of people recommended diatomaceous earth.  I’m still not exactly sure how this kills ants (there are several competing ideas), but it was worth a try.  Breathing in diatomaceous earth is rather like breathing in powdered glass, and it can severely dry your skin/mucous membranes if you touch or inhale it.  Still, I figured it was safer than poison and added it to my list.   Many people also recommended baby powder and swore by the results.  I didn’t think there was a chance that it would work (why should it?), but baby powder is cheap and relatively harmless, so onto the list it went!  I bought everything on my list, the Amdro and diatomaceous earth from Home Depot and talc-based baby powder from the grocery store.  It cost about $20 for all of it.

diatomaceous earth

A diatomaceous earth barrier. Ants had to walk across this line of diatomaceous earth to enter my home.

My attack was simple.  First, with the help of the most wonderful friend ever (how many friends are willing to risk being stung by fire ants to help you?), I raked up the leaves in my yard so I could find the nests.  Many of the nests were under rocks, so I waited until the ants were less active and dumped ant bait under them.  I wanted the poisoned bait out of reach of the dogs, so I only put it under rocks.  I then spread a thick line of diatomaceous earth along the base of the house to act as a barrier for ants that were coming in from the yard.  Indoors, I thickly sprinkled baby powder all over the shower head and along the loose caulking around the base of the shower, the two areas where most of the ants were coming in.  For good measure,  I also baby powdered the base of the toilet and sink.

The following day, I went into the bathroom and was surprised to see that there were only about 30 ants running around.  I used my paintbrush on them and that was pretty much that!  I’ve only seen a total of 4 ants in the two weeks since!  I don’t know how or why it worked, but the baby powder seems to have actually worked.  I’m leaving it down a few more days, then I’ll just vacuum it up (with the new, working vacuum).  Easy!

There were also far fewer ants in the yard, but there was one line of them stretching all the way across the yard still.  When I looked closer, I noticed that the ants were all carrying larvae with them.  I had them on the run!  I ran inside and grabbed the baby powder and heavily powdered the entire line.   The next day, my yard was virtually fire ant free!  There are a few other species of ants in the yard still, but they’re not problem ants and I’m going to leave them alone.  But the fire ants are gone!

dog in yard

My dog Monkey sleeping in the fire ant-free yard!

I can once again use my bathroom without being stung.  I can chase bugs in my flip flops to my heart’s content.  My dogs can spend hours each day lying in the dirt, basking in the hot sun.  It’s glorious!  And if you’re wondering just how happy I am with the results, the very existence of this blog post should be a good indication.  Never though I would EVER write a pest control post!  But these ants…  They were awful!  They stung without provocation and there were SO many of them I just couldn’t ignore them.  I am not sorry to see them go either.

I think the method I used will work for others.  My friend who helped rake leaves had fire ants invade her house shortly after mine and my method worked well for her.  I also baby powdered the larger black ants (no idea what kind) my sister recently discovered in her pantry at the Grand Canyon.  They left immediately, though they might come back because we didn’t figure out where they were coming in and create a barrier there.  I’m not convinced that any of the methods I used will work in humid areas either (I do, after all, live in a desert), but if you live in a dry area and have fire ants, it might be worth trying a combination of the control agents I used.  They worked very quickly and very cheaply for me!

Today’s post was a little later than usual, but I should be back to my normal posting schedule now.  Check out Wordless Wednesday this week!  It features a group of amazingly beautiful ladybugs.

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