Sunday, April 19, 2009

New fiends...

You read right, fiends, not friends.

Yes, we have a spectacularly early and long spring here in Central Texas. And we have mild winters that allow us to grow many plants as perennials. There are many things to love about our climate.

But what else do we have?

Yep - you guessed it...FIRE ANTS.

The dreaded feisty, fearsome fire ants ... known to kill calves and colts and other large animals probably a million times their own size. (I'm guessing at that math -- work with me here!)

But seriously. They are a menace.

I gave up on the pleasures of walking barefoot in the grass a quarter of a century ago when we moved to Texas (I was just a baby then - ha!). My family and I cannot enjoy summer picnics in the grass on a blanket -- we have to sit on the driveway.

And every where you walk, you have to look at your feet, ever watchful for those dreaded monsters.

According to Wikipedia, a typical fire ant colony produces large mounds in open areas and feeds mostly on young plants, seeds and crickets. Fire ants often attack small animals and can kill them. Unlike other ants, which bite and then spray acid on the wound, fire ants only bite to get a grip and then sting and inject a toxic venom called Solenopsin. A painful sting, it produces a sensation similar to what one feels when being burned by fire, hence the name.

Fire ants nest in the soil, often near moist areas, such as river banks, pond edges and watered lawns. Usually the nest is not visible as it will be build under objects like timber, logs, rocks, etc. If there is no cover for nesting, they will construct dome-shaped mounds that can reach heights of more than 15 inches high.

Colonies are founded by small groups of queens or single queens. Even if only ONE queen survives, within a month, the colony can expand to thousands of individuals. (She's REALLY busy.)
With our heavy rains this week (for which I eternally grateful - thank you , thank you, thank you), the fire ants came up out of the woodwork to make their domes. The edges of every lawn along my dog-walking route is filled with mounds where they came up out of the ground in the deluge.

Sadly, they are pretty indestructible. There are some baits that help control them, and some insects that researchers are working on to develop predators, but as of now, they have no natural predators.

Pity.

17 comments:

Lisa at Greenbow said...

You poor thing. I would hate to have the dreaded Fire Ants in the garden. Everything I have heard about them is sounds scary.

Carol said...

I'm actually "here" to see your bloom day posts, but decided to check out the fire ants. I feel sorry for you all to have to deal with those... they are much smaller than I thought they'd be.

Carol, May Dreams Gardens

Diana said...

Lisa -- It's a pain -- gotta keep your dogs and kids out of them, too, and let's face it -- they aren't very observant! And they do hurt like @#%*&^*!

Carol -- Hi! Boy what a great GBBD you had. So glad I could be part of it. I'll tell you what, we have many different species of ants, but I can spot a fire ant a MILE away!

Aunt Debbi/kurts mom said...

They are trying to take over my garden too. I used DE twice and most seem to have moved on.

Diana said...

I hadn't heard that DE worked on them, I'll have to try that. I'll be treating today, that's for sure. And why do they build mounds right where the dog wants to lay?

Frances said...

Hi Diana, that is one thing I do not miss at all about living in Texas. I was stung so many times that I have developed a theory that the stings contain something good, like an antidote for some dreaded disease. My grandmother used to say the wasp stings prevented boils. No barefootin'!
Frances

Lancashire rose said...

I already have fire ant bites on my hands and feet. I have them in pots and veg. garden and piling up in the center of plants. I put out the bait( conserve) yesterday and some were busy taking it down into the mound, hopefully to feed to the queen. I also drenched with spinosid in the vegetable garden. This is a product approved for organic gardening but it is expensive. I have also used diatomaceous earth and boiling water! and that silly thing about putting a shovel full of one on a mound for another whence the battle ensues! I'll try anything to get rid of those devils. It's an all out war.

Diana said...

Frances -- that's a great theory -- I will have to remember that the next time those little buggers get ahold of me!

Lancashire Rose -- You are so right - it is an all-out war. That's the perfect description of this struggle. I'm going after my queens today!

Sherri said...

Very informative post. I've never been troubled with this type of ant. (Thank goodness)

FitsandStarts(K) said...

I am struggling with ants, too, it must be the perfect conditions for them this year. I have found that DE works quite well in getting rid of fir ant mounds if applied thickly and consistently until they disappear, but it only seems to work for a few days in the vegetable garden ... they always re-appear (might be a different kind of ant?)! I'm experimenting with mulching a thicker and thicker layer of DE around some of the plants (esp. squash) that seem to be most plagued by ants. We'll see ... good luck!

Anonymous said...

I can't think of anything worse than fire ants in your garden unless it's tomato bugs in your heirlooms. A bit off topic, has anyone had there hands on the propane string trimmer from LEHR...www.golehr.com. I am ready to buy one and would like to know what you all think.

Diana said...

Sherri - consider yourself lucky! I'm so glad for you.

Fits and Starts -- I'll have to try some of that. I just use the bait and cross my fingers. Who knows if it works or they just move around!

Anonymous - Yes, tomato bugs in my heirlooms would be terrible!

Jan (Thanks For 2 Day) said...

Ooh, I just can't stand the big black ants we get here, either...and those red fireants sound even worse. Sometimes they've crawled up my shoes onto my legs while I'm gardening, and they bite, too! Ouch. Thanks for dropping by...you're on my followers list and sidebar now;-) Have a great day, Jan

Diana said...

Jan -- Glad your blog stuff is back to normal again! I've learned to live with the bees -- I just talk to them when I am working around them, but the fire ants just won't be charmed!

Bonnie said...

Ugh- I have been treating them all week. Ran over three mounds with my lawnmower and Jack got 5 bites on his foot the other night when he unknowingly stood on a recycled rubber mulch pad that had a nest underneath. Poor baby. I immediately dabbed his bites with a 50/50 water/bleach solution to take the sting out of the bite. Works very well.

Diana said...

Bonnie -- Ouch! poor little guy. I do feel the worst for them - they should be able to play outside without worrying about getting zapped. I know Kallie thinks I am paranoid, but I just really don't want her to get bitten and they seem to be everywhere. I'll remember the bleach/water tip.

ryan said...

My dad spent twenty years manufacturing baits for fire ants, a very un-PC profession for the father of an organic gardener. Hanging in his office when I was a kid he had a huge poster advertisement for one of the company's products showed a closeup of the ants. Vicious looking creatures. You have my sympathy.