How to get rid of red imported fire ants: Understanding and eradicating these pests 

Australia’s diverse ecosystem is home to many creatures, including tens of thousands of species of insect – but not all of these are welcome guests. Amongst the most notorious invaders is the fire ant, an aggressive species known to cause havoc nationwide. Red imported fire ants are currently a prolific threat in certain parts of Australia, including Queensland and New South Wales, so it’s more essential than ever to understand how these pests spread, their multifaceted impact, and the most effective methods to eradicate them. 

What are red imported fire ants? 

Red imported fire ants (from the genus Solenopsis) are a type of ant known for their aggressive nature and painful sting. Their invasive tendencies and territorial behaviour make them both a nuisance and a true danger to humans, animals, and land. 

Native to South America, they have now spread to many other parts of the world, including Australia, where they pose a significant threat in many areas, including Queensland and northern New South Wales. You’ll find red imported fire ants building large mound nests, typically in sunny areas like lawns, fields, and pastures. Fire ants are omnivorous and feed on various foods, including insects, seeds, and even small animals.

What do fire ants look like? 

There are well over 1,000 species of ants present in Australia, so being able to visually identify threatening pests like the red imported fire ant is the first critical step in any good management strategy. So, what do red imported fire ants actually look like? 

Fire ants are a similar size and shape to your common ant, but their distinguishing feature is their reddish-brown colour, which makes them easier to spot against grass or soil. Their abdomens are often a darker brown shade than the rest of their bodies. Fire ants range in size from 2mm to 6mm, and it’s not uncommon to see a variety of sizes of ant within this range in the one nest. Up close, you may also notice that fire ants have a distinctly segmented pedicel (waist area). 

How have red imported fire ants spread across Australia? 

Residents of Queensland, New South Wales, and Western Australia may have noticed a sharp uptick in red imported fire ant monitoring recently – and this is because they have spread rapidly throughout these regions since their initial detection in Brisbane in 2001. This is a concerning phenomenon that has garnered significant attention from researchers, policymakers, and the public alike. 

There are a number of factors that entomologists and agriculturists have attributed to this spread, including fire ants’ physiology, Australia’s climate, and a lack of imminent predators.

Australia’s natural environment

A huge contributor to the rapid proliferation of fire ants is Australia’s hot and humid climate, which is the ideal environment for these ants to build their nests and consequently reproduce. The harsh winters with wind, snow and sleet that would limit the survival of fire ants in other regions simply don’t exist here in Australia, which allows fire ant populations to persist and expand year-round. These invasive ants are also highly adaptable and can thrive in various habitats, from urban areas to agricultural land. 

Lack of natural predators

In their native South America, fire ants coexist with natural predators and competitors that help regulate their populations. However, in Australia, they are an introduced species without these natural enemies. As a result, they face fewer threats, allowing them to proliferate freely. 

Fire ant physiology

Red imported fire ants are highly mobile insects, and can fly up to 5km, which means they are often travelling both over and underground to facilitate a faster spread. They can easily establish new colonies through natural means, such as mating flights or budding off satellite colonies from existing nests. 

Fire ants are also adept hitchhikers, which means they can travel unnoticed in soil, mulch, potted plants, turf, farm products, and personal belongings. Infested materials transported between regions facilitate the spread of red imported fire ant colonies, allowing them to establish new footholds in previously uninfested areas. 

Despite efforts to control the spread of fire ants, such as government-led eradication programs and community engagement initiatives, fire ants continue to advance into new territories because of these environmental factors and dispersal mechanisms. Other contributing factors include the vastness of the Australian landscape, limited control resources, and difficulty detecting and treating infestations in remote areas. Ultimately, their ongoing spread poses significant ecological, economic, and social threats, which makes control with the goal of eradication even more imperative. 

Why are red imported fire ants such a threat? 

Fire ants are more than just a nuisance – they pose serious and multifaceted risks to humans, animals, and the environment. Subsequently, their presence in Australia continues to have trickle-down impacts on our ecosystems, agriculture, public health, and the economy. Let’s explore a few of the key impacts of fire ants in the Australian context. 

Agricultural impacts

Fire ants can damage crops by feeding on seeds, buds, and fruit, and by attacking honeydew-producing pests like aphids and scale insects. Their mounds can also interfere with agricultural machinery operations, which not just reduces productivity, but poses safety risks to farmers themselves. Fire ants may also attack and sting livestock, particularly young animals, causing stress, discomfort, and lowered productivity. It’s clear that the economic costs associated with fire ant infestations, especially when control measures are taken into consideration, are substantial. 

Ecological impacts

Fire ants outcompete and displace native ant species, which can disrupt ecosystem balance and reduce biodiversity. They are opportunistic predators that can prey on small native animals, including insects, reptiles, and ground-nesting birds, leading to declines in native fauna populations.

Public health impacts

Because of their painful stings, fire ants also pose a notable public health risk. If a human or animal is stung by a red imported fire ant, they may experience intense pain, itching, swelling, and even allergic reactions, which can lead to potentially fatal health outcomes like anaphylaxis. Individuals repeatedly exposed to fire ant stings may experience long-term health issues like distress and reduced quality of life. The risk of encountering stinging fire ants also has wider societal impacts, as it can deter people from engaging in outdoor recreational activities such as gardening, picnicking, and playing sports. 

Economic impacts

Managing and controlling fire ant infestations can also incur significant financial costs for various parties, including government agencies, landowners, businesses, and homeowners. Beyond the economic devastation red imported fire ants can have on the agricultural industry through disruption of productivity, these pests can also deter tourists from visiting affected areas, which has immeasurable impacts for local economies relying on tourism revenue.

Overall, the impact of red imported fire ants in Australia are multifaceted, and underscore the importance of effective management to mitigate their effects on the environment, agriculture, public health, and the economy. Collaborative efforts involving all levels of government, researchers, industry stakeholders, and the community are central to addressing this invasive species’ threat and protecting Australia’s ecosystems and livelihoods.

How to get rid of red imported fire ants

While there are a number of government strategies and plans in place across Australia to manage the spread of fire ants on a large scale, there are still ways for individuals to keep populations under control in their own backyards. Efforts to control red imported fire ants should be multifaceted, combining baiting and direct application of chemical treatments to effectively eradicate infestations. Let’s explore how to implement these strategies for the best chance of success against fire ants.


Baits are ant traps consisting of a targeted insecticide designed to kill swiftly and effectively. Many contain an attractive food source for the ants, like an oil or protein, which helps to lure them in. Usually delivered in granular form, the ants carry the bait back to the colony and distribute it amongst the population, including the queen, before they consume it. Consequently, results aren’t always immediate, but once the bait has been returned to the ant colony the rate of eradication should be quite high. If your first effort isn’t 100% successful, don’t worry – best results will be achieved with consistent baiting.

For baits to work, they must be directly applied in areas where fire ant activity has been observed, such as around mounds or along foraging trails. Scatter the bait evenly across the infested area, ensuring it is easily accessible by the ant population. Be sure to apply your baits during periods of high ant activity when colonies are actively foraging for food, and avoid baiting during heavy rain or extreme heat to ensure maximum efficacy. 

Once baits have been applied, we recommend you monitor your progress over time to assess ant activity and bait consumption. Bait can be reapplied as needed to maintain control and ensure all colonies within the target area are treated. Like with any insecticide-based formula, it is important to follow the directions for use carefully, especially when reapplying treatment, as reapplication times and rates can vary from product to product. 

Recommended baits for red imported fire ants

Selecting the right bait to target fire ants will be vital for success – here are some of the most tried-and-tested products on the market that have shown to be effective in controlling fire ants in various settings.

Synergy Pro Ant Bait: This granular ant bait uses a dual action system to target all life stages and ensure complete colony control. It is appealing to oil-, sugar-, and protein-feeding ants making it an excellent choice for a variety of settings and situations. 

Advion Fire Ant Bait: This product offers an immediate solution, controlling ant infestations in just one application. Within 12 to 48 hours, you’ll notice the eradication of foraging ants, and in just 72 hours, total colony eradication should occur. After two applications, Advion provides year-long control in most locations.

SAS Pro Professional Granule Ant Killer: Another excellent bait solution, the SAS Pro Professional Granule Ant Killer relies on fipronil in a granular formulation to control all feeding preferences. It is fast-acting, odourless, and non-repellent, meaning fire ants won’t know what’s hit them until it’s too late. 

Chemical treatments (insecticides) 

In addition to baiting, individuals looking to control fire ant populations should opt for targeted insecticides. These chemical treatments must be applied directly to individual mounds or infestations, which can be done using a sprayer or a drenching method to guarantee thorough coverage. Once applied, monitor treated areas for ant activity to assess the effectiveness of your chosen treatment. Areas can be re-treated as necessary to achieve complete eradication.

The best insecticides for fire ants

We recommend selecting a chemical treatment specifically labelled for fire ant control for the best chance at speedy eradication. Products containing active ingredients like bifenthrin or fipronil will do the most comprehensive job, ensuring you don’t have to continually reapply your insecticides to see results.

AntagonistPro Residual Insecticide: Created using Australia’s only polymer-enhanced bifenthrin formulation, AntagonistPro can overcome the harsh environmental factors that often break down traditional insecticide treatments. This equates to superior eradication and longer-lasting control. Another popular product that relies on bifenthrin is the Surefire Fivestar Insecticide

AttractantPro Ant Gel: This insecticide includes the active ingredient Indoxacarb to deliver a highly attractive product for the ant and a comprehensive kill that targets every member of a colony, from the workers to the queen. 

TermiForce 100SC Termiticide and Insecticide: Fipronil is the active ingredient in this non-repellent, low toxicity insecticide that has been proven to be highly effective against fire ants, termites, and a number of other species. 

In addition to these popular products, the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) is considering issuing permits for the use of other insecticides that are currently only registered for treating other species of ant. These products would need to contain 100g/L of bifenthrin as their only active ingredient, like Surround Termiticide and Zeus Termiticide and Insecticide

Alongside baits and insecticides, it’s crucial to implement prevention methods to stop the spread of fire ants. If your property is at risk of fire ant infestation, be sure to maintain clean and tidy outdoor spaces, and to inspect all incoming goods for ant nests. Community education initiatives focusing on fire ant identification and reporting, such as those run by state governments, will also be pivotal in helping to control the spread of red imported fire ants. Additionally, we recommend seeking guidance from local authorities or pest control professionals to assist in developing and implementing a comprehensive fire ant eradication plan tailored to your circumstances and conditions. 

Red imported fire ants pose a significant threat to Australia’s ecosystems, agriculture, public health, and critically, its economy. Eradicating them requires a coordinated effort with action from both governments, communities, and individual property owners. By understanding how to identify fire ants and how they behave, we can implement effective control measures and work together to contain the spread of these invasive pests before they cause irrevocable harm to Australia’s unique and precious biodiversity.

If you’re currently dealing with a fire ant infestation on your property, or just want to equip yourself with the right knowledge and tools in case of an outbreak, we’d love to help. Get in touch with our friendly team today and we’ll point you in the right direction when it comes to individual control measures like baits and insecticides.

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