How do imported fire ants spread from location to location? How far can they travel?
Imported fire ants spread through (1) transported sod, hay, beehives or nursery stock that is infested with mated queens or colonies (this is why nursery stock and sod sold outside the fire ant quarantine area must be certified as fire ant-free); (2) queens mated in the air that are blown, fly or are transported into new areas when they land on vehicles; (3) flooded colonies that form "rafts" or balls that float to new areas; or (4) by "budding off," the process by which fire ant colonies with more than one queen start new colonies. Entire colonies can also move from one location to another when the colonies are disturbed, but in these cases they generally don't move far.
Ants searching for food can travel 200 feet or more from the mound. This is important to keep in mind when applying bait near water bodies. Broadcast bait at a safe distance (10-20 feet) from water bodies, since the ants from colonies located near the shore will travel away from the water to pick up the bait or other food.
It is important to know that even with all the best control practices and hard work, fire ants can still return to your property by hitching a ride or by new queens flying from a nearby colony. It is equally important to note that these new colonies will initially be small and close to the surface, so they can be easily managed by individual mound treatments.
The LSU AgCenter and the LSU College of Agriculture