“Fire ants cost the southern U.S. more than $1 billion per year in damage to livestock, public health and fire ant control, according to Florida Power and Light Company. It is estimated that fire ants cost homeowners $7.9 million per year on medical treatments for stings, and $11.2 million in structural damages, according to fpl.com.
But, as one Calhoun resident found out, most power companies don’t accept liability for damage inflicted by fire ants.
“About a month ago they looked in my box and found a bunch of fire ants,” said local resident Scott Rainwater. “I filed a claim and they said they weren’t liable.”
“I had to file it on my own insurance,” he said. “Those ants caused about $3,000 worth of damage.”
Rainwater’s electric company, Northwest Georgia Electric Membership Corporation, said that they do what they can to prevent fire ant damage.
“All of our underground facilities are checked and treated for ants, insects, and rodents on a rotating basis. We do as much as possible to minimize infestations but we can’t eliminate them or prevent them from happening completely,” said Laura Sparks, Director of Marketing and Communications for Northwest Georgia EMC.
“Utilities can’t prevent outages or damages caused by acts of nature such as storms, lightning, floods, and wildlife and therefore we would not be held liable for the damage,” she said.
Controlling ant colonies before they produce a mound is important. According to Will Hudson, a professor with the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, in an article for the UGA Cooperative Extension, once a treatment program is in effect, timing is not all that important.
For an area one acre or less, baits should not be used because re-infestation is more likely from colonies outside of the yard this way, Hudson says.
“There is a difference between eliminating ants and controlling them,” he explained. “Baits do not eliminate ants because there is no residual control. A new colony can still come in and be unaffected by the bait laid down prior to their arrival.”
Mounds can be completely eliminated with bait application every six months, Hudson said. “There will be invasion in the meantime, and you will still have fire ants, just not enough to create a new mound,” he said.
Individual mount treatment is often the least effective option, he said.
Hudson recommends a registered insecticide in a liquid solution, applied with a hose-end sprayer, for lawn treatment.
“If you choose a granular product, measure carefully to be sure you apply the correct amount of material and get good, even coverage,” he said.
Hudson said baits usually have minimal environmental effects; once it is set out, there is not a lot of time for anything to come in contact with it before the ants get it.
Steam or boiling water are other non-chemical options.
“We recommend using boiling water to treat a mound near an area such as a well where you do not want any chemicals,” Hudson said. “Using hot water is very effective, but the problem is you are not always able to boil the water right next to the area you want treated.”
Carrying the boiling water can inflict serious burns, so extreme caution should be used when treating with this method, Hudson said.
Consumers should be careful in choosing a product, Hudson said; labels can be confusing. For assistance in product selection, call your local UGA Cooperative Extension agent.
“The most important thing to remember is that you need to be realistic in your expectations,” Hudson said. “If you are treating mounds, you need to be prepared. You are going to chase the mounds around the yard.”