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Strange ant behaviour

Posted Tuesday, August 28, 2007

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Pittsboro, NC - The ant behavior you described, "building hills and holes in a straight line across my gravel driveway. The line stopped right at the edge of both sides of the driveway" is consistent with moving fire ants. There may also be other ants that exhibit similar behavior.

Fire ants relocate their nests for a variety of reasons (better view, access to water, better jobs, who knows what ants prefer?). Typically they maintain tunnels just below the soil surface. When they reach something like a compacted gravel drive, the digging must be a bit more difficult forcing them closer to the surface. They may be relocating a nest or simply foraging on the other side of the drive. If you haven’t noticed a fire ant mound, it typically takes several months after a queen mates in the spring for her to build numbers sufficient for the new colony to be obvious. Small mounds often start to show up in the fall.

Because fire ants feed on a wide range of insects and other small animals, they are sometimes regarded as beneficial. For those who don’t like fire ants or any other ants, some studies indicate that up to 90% of mated queens fail to establish a nest because they are killed by native ants defending their territory. Killing all ants may be counterproductive. Although fire ants haven’t been here forever, they are now one of the life forms with whom we share our world.


WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW FIRST:

  1. We will not eliminate fire ants. Select mounds and locations that are important and deal with them on a mound by mound basis. Mounds you should concentrate on include those in areas of people traffic such as parks, playgrounds, and home lawns.
  2. To eliminate a mound you must kill the queen. She lives inside the mound.
  3. When the mound is disturbed, the ants will remove the queen by way of tunnels underground but close to the surface. Avoid disturbing the mound.
HOW TO PROCEED:
  1. Identify the mound. Fire ants may be recognized by the mound. Unlike most ants, fire ants live both below ground and inside the mound built above ground. When disturbed, whitish rice-like larvae may be seen. Hundreds of ants may emerge.
  2. Select one of the following treatment options:
  3. Bait Treatment. Select a product (see North Carolina Agricultural Chemicals Manual: Insect Chapter or call this office). Keep these products in an airtight, odor free container to retain their usefulness. According to directions, spoon the bait around, not on, the mound. Baits deteriorate when exposed to moisture, high temperature, or sunlight. Make application under dry conditions, late in the day. It may take several weeks for the mound to die.
  4. OR Dry Mound Treatment. Select a granule or dust product (see North Carolina Agricultural Chemicals Manual: Insect Chapter or call this office). Follow the product label to apply the product directly to the mound. Some of these products may need to be watered in. Consult the product label. Several days later, check the surrounding area for survivors starting a new mound and re-treat if necessary.
  5. OR Drench treatment. Select a product (see North Carolina Agricultural Chemicals Manual: Insect Chapter or call this office). Before purchase make sure the product gives directions for a drench. "Kills Fire Ants" is not good enough; you must get to the queen. Mix in a garden watering can according to label directions mixing one gallon for each 6 inches of mound diameter. Thoroughly wet the ground around the mound to seal off the queen's exits. Continue to use all the material to soak the interior of the mound. Several days later, check the surrounding area for survivors starting a new mound and re-treat if necessary.
  6. Consider the Texas Two-Step Method. Apply a bait. Wait about a week, then follow-up with an individual mound treatment - dust, granule, or drench. There is more information here on the Two-Step Method.
  7. Other options. Treatments such as gasoline, motor oil, or grits usually cause the ants to abandon the mound and start a new one.
SPECIAL CONSIDERATIONS:
  1. People with allergies. Persons allergic to stings should avoid fire ant treatments.
  2. Protecting your water. Avoid use of pesticides within 50 feet of wells, abandoned wells, streams, or ponds. In these situations several gallons of boiling water may be applied to each mound. Repeat treatments may be necessary. The primary advantage of this treatment is to force the ants to move the mound.
  3. Fruits and vegetables. Most insecticides for control of fireants are neither safe nor legal to use in food crops. A spinosad product currently marketed as Justice does include use in these areas. It also bears the label of the Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI). Boiling water may be applied to each mound. Repeat treatments may be necessary. The primary advantage of this treatment is to force the ants to move the mound. .
  4. Pastures. For a product that is safe and legal for control of fire ants, see North Carolina Agricultural Chemicals Manual: Insect Chapter, or contact this office.
  5. A comprehensive list of fire ant control products was compiled by Dr. Kathy Flanders at Auburn University. It is available at: http://insects.ncsu.edu/Urban/fireantproductlist.pdf
FOR MORE INFORMATION: Contact Chatham County Center of the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service, 919-542-8202.
See Cooperative Extension Service publication AG-486, Red Imported Fire Ant, for additional information.

Remember the strategy is more important than the product. And control is usually more effective in cooler weather. Fall and spring are optimal.

 
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Strange ant behaviour
Because fire ants feed on a wide range of insects and other small animals, they are sometimes regarded as beneficial.