Nontoxic, Natural, Vegan Fire Ant Control

Fire ants are dangerous to both humans and animals, and seeing a fire ant mound in your yard is cause for concern. It's estimated that fire ants cause $5 billion in damages annually in the United States in medical treatment and control, and another three-quarters of a billion in damage to agricultural assets. Forty million people live in infested areas in the United States, and about sixty per cent of people living in infested areas are stung each year.

What Works, What Does Not Work to Control Fire Ants

Many gardeners use some type of poison to deal with fire ants. However, in addition to the usual danger to both humans and pets where poison is involved, there are other problems with using poisons to kill fire ants. First, there is no poison that is specific to ants in general, much less to fire ants in particular. An insecticide will not only kill beneficial ants (without them, we would all be up to our necks in waste), but all the other beneficial insects (such as bees), plants, and wildlife as well (after all, birds eat insects!). By using only natural substances to control fire ants, we can avoid killing the species of insects, birds and animals that are not only desirable but necessary for the health of our homes and gardens.

As with just about every subject, there is a lot of misinformation out there; however, the methods listed here are derived from research papers in peer-reviewed scientific journals, and are intended to work primarily on Solenopsis invicta (the most dangerous species of fire ant), without disturbing other elements in your environment.

Fire Ants Can Be Deadly!

Red Fire Ants, Attacking Lizard, USA, by David M. Dennis
Red Fire Ants, Attacking Lizard, USA, by David M. Dennis | Source

What You Need for Treating Fire Ant Mounds with Boiling Water

Bayou Classic SP10 High-Pressure Outdoor Gas Cooker, Propane
Bayou Classic SP10 High-Pressure Outdoor Gas Cooker, Propane

This propane burner will heat up the required amount of water to boiling.

 
ThxToms 392°F Heat Resistant Rubber Gloves, Oil, Acid, Alkali and Solvent Resistant, 1 Pair, Large
ThxToms 392°F Heat Resistant Rubber Gloves, Oil, Acid, Alkali and Solvent Resistant, 1 Pair, Large

These heat-resistant gloves come with a separate fabric liner to protect your hands.

 
Tygoprene Translucent Tubing, 1/2" ID, 3/4" OD, 1/8" Wall, 5' Length
Tygoprene Translucent Tubing, 1/2" ID, 3/4" OD, 1/8" Wall, 5' Length

You want a fairly substantial tube because you need to deliver the hot water as fast as possible. Don't try to get by with anything less than one-half inch inside diameter or you run a real risk of being attacked. Silicone tubing will handle boiling water with ease.

 

Limited, Local and Highly Effective - Boiling Water to Control Fire Ants

The single most effective treatment for fire ant mounds, as determined by peer-reviewed scientific studies, is boiling water. Many people have tried boiling water and claim it does not work, but there must be a specific treatment method that is to be followed. Otherwise, the boiling water method will not work. But before you begin, there are several problems with this method: first, you will need a lot of boiling water--up to twenty gallons for a single fire ant mound. The second problem is that you will need several treatments at first, and keep repeating the treatments until the fire ants decide that your yard is an inhospitable place for them. And the third problem is, of course, that you must get awfully close to the fire ant mound and can run the risk of a severe, painful, and in rare cases, fatal fire ant attack.

So how to safely use boiling water to kill fire ants? First, have enough boiling water on hand to insure that you can get the entire mound at one time. The best way to do this is to put an immersion heater in a 20-gallon heatproof container, and use a pump and a garden hose to direct the boiling water on to the ant mound. You can also use a siphon by filling a heatproof hose with tepid water, and place one end in the bucket, holding your thumb over the other end until it is time to release the boiling water. If you use either of these methods, make sure you are wearing heatproof protective gloves and safety glasses.

Take a long stick (that legendary ten-foot pole would be ideal), and poke the stick down into the mound as far as it will go. Ants will immediately rush out of the mound to attack, so right away start pouring the boiling water onto the mound. Don't worry about the foraging ants unless they are an immediate threat; go for the innermost chambers and the queen and larvae. Pour the entire contents of the bucket onto the mound.

Wait a few weeks, and go back to the area. Some ants will have been out foraging, and they will have started new mounds. Use the boiling water treatment on them again. You may have to repeat the treatment up to five times to get all the ants in a particular area, and when new colonies are formed during mating season, you may have to do the process all over again. The good news is that after a year or so, the ants will give up and move elsewhere.

Note: this method works by boiling the ants. Fire ants not only cooperate in floods to link together to form rafts, but fire ants can survive as long as two weeks completely submerged in water. Anything less than water hot enough to cook them will only aggravate the ants and may provoke attacks.

Essential Oils to Control Fire Ants

Two essential oils, eugenol and d-limonene, will disrupt digging behaviour in fire ants. You will need fairly strong concentrations (more than can be obtained by the traditional method of soaking citrus peels or cloves in water for several weeks). Your best bet for these methods is to find a supplier that will provide you with sufficient quantities for insecticide purposes. However, again, these essential oils may disrupt native ant species or beneficial insects. In order to completely disrupt digging behaviour you will need a concentration of 100 mg of these essential oils per 2 pounds of dirt.

Biological Solutions

If your climate supports it, a Venus Flytrap may be an effective way to help fight fire ant infestation. About a third of the insects captured by this plant are non-native ants. Other solutions that may help include phorid flies, some species of spiders, birds, and other species of ants. However, just as fire ants are an invasive species, you must guard against introducing other invasive species, or the problem will simply shift to another imbalance.

An Ounce of Prevention to Control Fire Ants

Fire ants will move into areas where only a few species of plants are growing, and prefer disturbed areas of earth (such as those that have been recently mowed or plowed). So, in order to make your yard less attractive to fire ants, you can implement the following steps:

  • Increase the biodiversity of your yard. By planting dozens of varieties of native plants, you will make your yard less attractive to fire ants. If you can't think of that many, consult with your local agricultural department.
  • Try not mowing until the grass is significantly high. Do not dig up areas of your yard unless absolutely necessary. Plowed areas are the most susceptible to fire ant invasion. Consider planting a herb lawn to completely eliminate your need for mowing.
  • Plant a mint garden. Although mint is an invasive garden herb, fire ants will abandon colonies where a sufficient quantity of mint is planted nearby, usually within days. A variety of mint plants are available, which will not only provide you with herbs for cooking and tea, but increase your yard's biodiversity.

What Does Not Work to Control Fire Ants

The cereal treatment (grits, instant oatmeal, etc.) proved completely ineffective in scientific studies.

If you get stung, aluminum sulfate and meat tenderizer do not work on fire ant stings.

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Comments 7 comments

tlpoague profile image

tlpoague 5 years ago from USA

Thanks for this information. I didn't know you could kill the ants with boiling water. Thanks again for sharing.


Anna 5 years ago

Good advice. I like the boiling water method,as it is inexpensive, virtually free to kill them - free in these tough times is always good. Thanks for the tips.


RTalloni profile image

RTalloni 5 years ago from the short journey

Now I love mint even more! Thanks!


Esmeowl12 profile image

Esmeowl12 5 years ago from Sevierville, TN

I've never found anything that gets rid of these horrible creatures. The boiling water thing did not work for us but I have to say that we were not as diligent as your hub recommends.

One of the reasons we moved further north is because I am allergic. Now they're coming here (TN). Yuck!


classicalgeek profile image

classicalgeek 5 years ago Author

The scientific studies used a number of control plots as well as treatment plots. Indeed if you are not diligent with the boiling water (or it is not hot enough, as boiling water cools rapidly), the treatment will be ineffective. That is why experimentation is always best, even better when someone else with a scientific reputation on the line does all the hard work of figuring it out for you! Increase your yard's biodiversity, plant mint, and grow a herb lawn that doesn't need mowing, and perhaps the ants will find your yard unwelcoming. Good luck!


william.fischer29 profile image

william.fischer29 5 years ago

Great information classicalgek.


pstraubie48 profile image

pstraubie48 3 years ago from sunny Florida

Good morning I am linking this hub to one I am publishing about red ants. If you are not okay with that please advise and I will remove it. I just wanted to give the info to others. Thanks ps Angels are on the way ps

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