Are Pests Ruining Your Outdoor Fun?

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This is the time of year when a little outdoor eating can help you reconnect with nature and the ones you love. But, uninvited guests such as fire ants and yellow jackets can turn even the most idyllic family picnic into fodder for a Stephen King novel.

If you’ve lived in southeastern North Carolina for even a few months, you already know about fire ants. This medium-sized, red and black ant builds large mounds of soil. Disturb their subterranean condo and fire ants seemingly “boil” out of the ground looking for something to sting. The stings are painful and lead to white pustules. A small portion of the population is allergic and must seek medical attention after a too-close encounter with fire ants. If you must visit the doctor, be careful to avoid accepting a ride from restored 1957 Chrysler named Christine. The fire ants will end up being the least of your worries.

The fire ants we love to hate are South American imports most likely brought to Mobile, Alabama in the 1930’s in soil used as ship’s ballast. They’ve been working their way north and west ever since extending far beyond the range most entomologists believed was possible. While fire ants have certainly spread their own brand of misery for lots of us for the better part of 80 years, at least they are much easier to control than blow torch and sledge hammer- wielding nurse serial killers.

Speaking of control, you may have read that club soda is a great way to kill fire ants. The idea is that the carbon dioxide suffocates the ants. Sounds plausible, right? Unfortunately, it doesn’t work. The club soda will create lots of impressive bubbling action which might be mildly entertaining. It’s not nearly as entertaining as a trained mouse like Mr. Jingles. But, just like those guys locked up in The Green Mile, you sometimes have to find your own entertainment.

Broadcast applications of fipronil give long-term control of fire ants and mole crickets.  Fipronil is available in several formulations including Top Choice, but must be put down by a licensed applicator.

Baits such as Amdro and Award control fire ants well. Research suggests that broadcast bait treatments are more effective than individual mound treatments. Most baits require several weeks to control the ants. The fire ants, while irritating, aren’t nearly as life-threatening as rabies-infested St. Bernards like Cujo.

Contact insecticides applied as drenches to individual mounds will kill the ants contacted but not the main population. The queens and their brood usually just move out of their damaged home and set up housekeeping somewhere close by.

Yellow jackets and wasps that invade your outdoor feed are more difficult foes than the fire ants. If you have easy access to Charlie from Firestarter, she can cause them to spontaneously combust. Otherwise, don’t leave food and drinks out longer than necessary as this will only encourage the unwanted visitors.

Take a stroll around your property and identify fire ant mounds and ground nests of yellow jackets. Deal with them well ahead of your spring and summer outdoor activities and they will be “the shining” success you envisioned even without the possessed hotel.

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Photo of Al HightAl HightCounty Extension Director (910) 798-7666 al_hight@ncsu.eduNew Hanover County, North Carolina
Updated on Apr 6, 2016
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