Expert shares the best way to get fire ants off you and your pets

For most of us, a bite from a fire ant will leave a red pimple or spot on our skin and isn’t dangerous. However, some people are allergic and a bite could be life-threatening.
Published: May. 19, 2022 at 6:37 PM EDT
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - Fire ants are notorious for leaving a pretty nasty sting! It happens when the colony is trying to defend the mound after a disturbance. They bite you and then sting you with their venom when attacking, which leaves that burning sensation and swelling.

Karen Vail, a professor and entomologist at the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture, said fire ants are not new to East Tennessee. In fact she said they have been found in 73 counties throughout the state.

”They became established in the state in 86′ I think it was. 86′ or 87′ along the southern border. They’ve been in Knoxville for several years,” shared Vail.

For most of us, a bite will leave a red pimple or spot on our skin and isn’t dangerous.

However, some people are allergic and a bite could be life-threatening. So having something like an epi-pen is recommended for those allergic to the venom.

Aside from their burning bites, Vail said fire ants do have some benefits.

”They feed on all kinds of insects. Which means they feed on those pest insects you may have too. So, pests feeding on your garden plants, fire ants are gonna go in there and eat those caterpillars,” explained Vail.

When it comes to removing the pesky ants off of your body or your pet, Vail said quick swiping tends to work better than trying to smack them.

”If they got on me, what I would do is just as quickly as I can brush them off and just make sure my hands are clear and you would do the same thing to your pet. Just pull those ants off. Don’t try squirting them down with a hose cause it doesn’t work very well,” shared Vail.

Experts said most mature fire ant mounds have around 245,000 worker ants (which are female) so when trying to get rid of them, Vail suggested using ant bait during the right time of the day.

”In the summer and it’s 95 degrees out, those ants aren’t gonna be near the surface. You don’t want to do that in the middle of the day. If you’re gonna do an individual mound treatment, you want to do that in the summer at least in the early morning or that evening when the ants will be closer to the surface. The baits work really well, but you have to be careful when you apply them. The ants optimally forge somewhere in the 70s and 80 degrees Fahrenheit,” said Vail.

When it comes to treating bigger areas like a pasture, vail said using a type of spreader could help lay down the bait.

“If you’re dealing with pastures, then you probably need to get an electric seeder. Something you can mount on an ATV or a tractor and apply that. It gets fairly expensive if you’re talking about large acreage. So if you are in a pasture, maybe just treat the area where cows are going to be giving birth and keep that area clean because fire ants can attack an animal and cause blindness in the eye or a newborn can be killed if they’re born near a mound,” Vail explained.

And if you are using bait, you may not want to keep an open container for too long. Vail said bait tends to expire quickly once the container is opened.

She said a good way to check is to place some bait next to a greasy potato chip and if an ant goes for the chip, it’s likely the bait has gone bad.

To find out more information about fire ants, click here.

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