Interesting Fire Ant Facts

We often get calls from folks who have recently moved to our area from out of state and have had their first encounter with fire ants. To put it mildly, they are horrified that such an insect exists and can’t understand why the rest of us are so seemingly so casual about them. We agree, fire ants are not to be trifled with and are pretty nasty. But Fire ants are also amazing creatures, so we thought we would share some interesting facts about them that you may not know.

Fire ants first came to the US in about 1918, arriving at the port in Mobile, Alabama. They arrived in soil used as ballast for the cargo ships. It took until the 1950’s for them to reach Texas and, since that time, they have spread all over the Southeast. The northern migration of fire ants is limited by cold winter temperatures that freeze the soil deeply enough to not allow the colonies to overwinter.

Fire ants spread by swarming: Unmated, winged reproductive male and female ants exit the mound in mass, fly into the air and mate while airborne. The newly mated fire ant queens fall back to the ground within a few miles of the mound from which they emerged. They shed their wings, eat them, and then attempt to start a new colony.

Fire ant resting on a leaf.The queen does this by laying a few eggs that eventually become small workers. These first workers then help care for their younger sisters and the colony begins to grow. Most of the ants in a fire ant colony are infertile, female workers. It takes several months for a colony to grow enough to build a mound large enough to be noticed in the average home lawn. Worker fire ants vary in size, but all are capable of stinging (fire ants first bite to grasp the skin, and then inject their stinger).

For every large mound in a lawn there are usually many younger colonies that are still too small to produce visible mounds. Small colonies develop into large colonies especially quickly if there are no bigger colonies nearby to compete with them. Once a young fire ant colony is well established and has a few thousand workers, it can quickly develop into a mature colony containing tens of thousands of ants. The mound is just like the tip of an iceberg and represents just a hint of what is going on under the soil.

Fire ant queens live a long time – as long as 7 years. They can lay up to 1,600 eggs per day. This translates to over 4 million eggs in her lifetime! The queen will never leave the nest once she develops into a breeding queen.

Three fire ants. Fire ants have a complete life cycle. The eggs hatch into legless larvae, which develop into pupae, and ultimately become adults. As you will see later, the larvae are essential to allow the colony to eat. Fire ants feed on a wide range of food, including insects, honeydew, plant nectar, seeds, fruit, and animal carcasses. They are especially interested in foods high in fat. Foraging workers exit the mound through underground tunnels that radiate away from the mound, exiting to the surface 5 to 25 feet away from the mound.

Adult fire ants are incapable of swallowing solid food and have to carry it back to the mound. Solid food is fed to the larger larvae, which chew and digest it, then regurgitate it in liquid form. This liquid food is then passed from the larvae back to the workers and shared with all ants in the colony. The queen will wait 48 hours before she eats the food, and if her workers die after ingesting it, she will not eat, thereby ensuring that the colony will not be lost.

 Fire ant colony.Fire ants are social insects that nest in the soil in large colonies that contain tens of thousands to more than 200,000 ants. During cold, wet weather fire ants tend to maintain their colonies high above ground—to keep brood out of water-logged soil and to take advantage of solar heating. During hot, dry weather fire ants tend to maintain their colonies below ground—to take advantage of cool, moist conditions.

Fire ant colonies can survive flooded conditions by “rafting,” and will establish a new mound wherever they happen to make landfall. This rafting is an amazing technique and it’s well worth a quick watch of this video from Nat Geo WILD to see it in action.

During times of flooding, it’s essential to keep an eye out for these rafts and stay well out of their way. When forced to relocate, worker fire ants will use their bodies to build a bridge across narrow expanses of water to allow safe transportation of their brood.

Fire ants have only one known predator; the Phorid Fly. The female phorid fly will seek out fire ants and lay her eggs in the ant’s thorax. When the egg moves into their larvae stage, they will push onto the ant’s head and kill it.

As with all insects, effective pest control requires a good understanding of the insect in question. While many homeowners utilize a poison they water in, to try and control and kill fire ants in their yard, Mosquito Joe prefers to use a bait that allows us to kill the queens. Our bait has a 72-hour delay which means we are able to circumvent the queen’s 48 hour wait time to feed, thereby killing the colony completely. Give us a call at 281-815-0228. to find out more!


Mosquito-Free Gardening: Do’s & Don’ts

September marks the official start of Fall, which means that the Texas weather will be shifting from hot and humid to…. well, warm and humid! Despite the heat, September is a favored growing season and makes a great time for avid gardeners to get outside and do what they love. However, if mosquitoes use your garden as their happy home, being outside can be rather miserable. To help you out here are some gardening ‘dos and don’ts’ that can help prevent or eliminate your mosquito issues.

house outdoorsOne of the most common causes of mosquito issues in your garden is mulch (or pine bark, pine needles, and other similar materials used on garden beds). These ground covers and the wet, shaded soil beneath can contain millions of mosquito eggs due to the moisture they hold. When you lay a new bag of mulch out, you also lay out the thousands of mosquito eggs contained with it, and you will experience a huge surge in your mosquito issues! However, leaving mulch bags out in the yard can have an even worse effect- the sealed, dark damp environment is an ideal home for mosquitoes. If you are going to keep mulch in bags for some time, move them out of the weather to help reduce the issues. Customers with Mosquito Joe will notify us when they add new mulch in the yard so we can be sure to treat these areas well to eliminate these mosquitoes. For those who do not have routine mosquito services, make sure you lay your mulch (or soil) out as soon as you can and don’t overwater.

wheel barrel

On the subject of mulch, the lining used for mulch beds can make a big difference in your mosquito population. Be sure to lay the landscape cloth completely flat so it does not hold pockets of water beneath it. We also recommend using a landscaping cloth material over a tarp, as these won’t allow any water to pass through and will just collect it after weather, creating a never-ending issue in your yard. We’ve seen some real head-scratchers over the years so be sure you know what is being laid under your beds if you opt to have that work done for you.

The manner in which you plant or pot your plants can contribute to issues in your yard as well. When planting in mulch beds, avoid digging holes too deeply into the soil as this will result in standing water each time you water. Conversely, don’t plant too high as that might cause a moat around your plant. For plants in pots, keep an eye on your plant pot saucers, and be sure to regularly dump out any water that collects in them. Whether in a bed or in a pot it is really important to avoid overwatering your plants!

Speaking of plants, please don’t be fooled by the gimmicky advertising on some that declare they are a “mosquito repellant.” You will be disappointed if you plant some of these in the hopes of warding off issues. To learn more about “mosquito repellant” plants and the truth behind them, check out our past blog post – ‘Do Mosquito Repellant Plants Really Work?


When working in the garden, keep an eye out for other objects that may hold water you don’t often think about- fountains, bird baths, wheelbarrows, tarps, gutters, drains, or gardening equipment can be the secret to your mosquito problems. Remember that 1 teaspoon of water will result in 300 mosquitoes every couple of days. The innocent water at the bottom of a watering can become a huge issue for you when you are outside. Keep an eye on your drainage system to make sure it is draining well and not holding water. It only takes a few leaves or some displaced mulch to cause a problem.

If you want to enjoy your gardening work without being bitten, consider giving Mosquito Joe a call at 281-815-0228. We treat flower beds with an all-natural product, garlic extract, and will never treat your veggie garden unless the situation warrants it (and we speak with you first). We tailor our services this way to minimize our impact on pollinators and beneficial


July 4th Mosquitoes

We will not be the only ones celebrating on July 4th. In fact, if mosquitoes could write their ideal situation, they couldn’t do it any better. We have large groups of people – all emitting CO2 plumes to attract them, likely many of those people sweating to attract them further. We also tend to gather on grasses, near woods where mosquitoes are lying in wait. Finally, we all gather at dusk, just the right time for mosquitoes to come out from their shade shelter and the females head out to look for a blood meal.

light bulbHouston has been ranked as the most extreme city in the nation for mosquitoes on July 4th, and many of us can attest that this is true. It’s a familiar story – we head out for an evening of fireworks and get there early so we can relax and enjoy a picnic while we wait. We soon find ourselves sweating and uncomfortable and, no doubt, very thirsty. We immediately run out of water and must go find more and use the restroom. Dusk begins to fall, and we start getting bitten. Eventually, it’s dark and the fireworks start, and in no time at all, it ends. We head home, exhausted, hot, and ready for a shower. As we get undressed, we notice the multitude of bites all over our bodies and remind ourselves we never want to do that again.

So how can we make the evening more bearable if we are headed out to watch the fireworks? There are some things we can do to make ourselves less palatable and attractive to the mosquito. First, though, let’s understand how mosquitoes find us in the first place.

color fireworks

From a distance, mosquitoes look for CO2 plumes to locate their prey. Simply breathing is the first step to drawing one to you and there is little you can do about that. Once they get closer the mosquito will then start picking up olfactory cues – sweat, perfumes, etc. They also start seeing colors. A recent study has shown that mosquitoes do have a preference for some colors over others and you can read more about it here. Wearing brighter colors like orange, black, and red will attract them, while greens and blues may actually deter some species. As mosquitoes get really close they begin to look for a heat source to locate a meal.

fireworks in the skyIn a large crowd, the CO2 plumes are like a flashing siren, and you can’t do much about that. You can, however, control to some extent the scent you produce. Limiting perfumes and “post alcohol” sweat can help. Obviously, bug spray is a good idea. What’s important is that everyone around you also does this because once a mosquito is close it is looking for a heat source and they will no longer distinguish between you and your neighbors. A good, reliable source, for bug spray options, can be found here It’s also a good idea to all wear the colors mentioned in the research, particularly white since it will help keep you cool as well and hence reduce odors that attract them.

If you plan on having your own fireworks at home, then you can do far more to make the evening pleasant. Mosquito Joe of NW Houston offers event services that will get rid of the mosquitoes in your yard for the evening. Give us a call at 281-815-0228 to get a free quote. And to learn more about mosquitoes and what you can do, without hiring us, to reduce them in your yard explore all our other blogs on the topic.


How to Enjoy Spring Break Without Mosquitoes

Hopefully, you have been following along with our suggestions for reducing the mosquitoes in your yard, particularly our January post detailing all the things you can do.

Now that we are in March and preparing for spring break it’s a good time to think about ways to make your yard more pleasant for your youngsters as they enjoy some time outside in the sun.

We won’t repeat our previous suggestions so please jump over to the earlier post on the topic if you want a solid overview of what to keep an eye on. Instead, we will focus on the likely activities this break and how they can impact your yard.

We all love a good slip-n-slide or kiddie pool, or at least our children do. They seem pretty innocent on the face of things, but they can both cause some major mosquitoes. Any type of tarp, like a slip and slide, can hold pockets of water, and it doesn’t take much time for mosquitoes to find them. Remember, 1 teaspoon of water will produce 300 mosquitoes in no time at all. To prevent this, make sure you store it away carefully when the kids are finished. Hang it flat over a fence to ensure it is dry, and then roll it up away and out of the elements so that water cannot gather inside it and cause issues for you.

girl playing with water tube
When it comes to a kiddie pool it’s best to make sure the water stays clean – treat it according to directions with chlorine and clean the base regularly. We’ve seen “forgotten” kiddie pools in the past and the number of mosquitoes they were breeding defies belief. Make sure you keep the pool in the sun and avoid placing it where shade is always present – mosquitoes will be less likely to visit during the day. And, most importantly, place the pool where the water won’t pool beneath it – a slight slant to the ground beneath is ideal so that the water can run away when splashed. A kiddie pool placed in the shade, with pooled water beneath it will result in a huge leap in your mosquito population.

toy play houseKids’ water toys can also cause issues. It’s easy to forget a loaded water gun discarded in the corner of the yard, but the mosquitoes won’t forget it. The same holds true for other kids’ toys – most plastic ones will fill with water after sprinklers run or rainfalls. They can hold a surprisingly substantial amount of water. Don’t forget the larger items either – outdoor children’s kitchens or playhouses can have a lot of nooks and crannies that hold water.

wheel barrel next to dirtFinally, this is often the time of year when we bring new mulch into our yards to beautify and prep for summer. Many people don’t realize it, but mulch is loaded with insects and with mosquito eggs. We spread and water it and then are surprised when we see a jump in mosquitoes a few days later. It can happen to us even when it is our neighbors who have mulched. There isn’t much we can do about this, unfortunately. However, if you are bringing in bagged mulch, spread it as soon as you can and get rid of
man playing in the ocean the bags. Bags of mulch always have holes in them. Let them sit outside and get hot and wet and you will breed far more than if you spread it and allow it to dry.

We hope you have a wonderful March and enjoy your spring break, whether home or away. We hope these suggestions are helpful to you, but if you would rather sit back and enjoy your yard give Mosquito Joe of NW Houston a call and we can do the work for you – 281-815-0228.


How to Plant a Fall Vegetable Garden in Houston

August in Houston means high heat, high humidity, and an increased interest in staying inside and staying cool. However, if you are willing to brave the heat now you can set yourself up for some delicious produce come fall.

Sprouting leaves of a gardenThe good news is that you don’t want to start your plantings in the heat as what is too hot for us is too hot for those tender seeds as well. Instead, you will want to start your seeds off in little pots and take care to keep them consistently moist. Your best bet is to place them in the morning sun, but make sure they have afternoon shade – or move them out of the sun come noon. If you need to speed up the process and are getting a later start, soak your seeds overnight in water before planting.  This will soften the hull and give you a jump start on growth.

Another trick to fool seeds into sprouting at the wrong time of year is to start them in an ice cube. A good example is spinach, which typically sprouts later in the season. You can get them to sprout sooner by freezing the seed in an ice cube and then planting the ice cube (who knew!).

Tomato Garden

Once the seeds start to sprout maintain the watering and sun schedule until they reach 6” tall.
Remember: you want moist soil, but you don’t want to overwater and cause root rot. Once they hit 6” they are ready to be planted. Ideally, you will want to do so in a raised bed since it is easier to water and maintain moistness than flat ground.

Be sure to weed and prep the soil with a good compost before planting. If you don’t have raised beds work your soil into raised ridges and plant in those.


Some plants that will do well planted in August include cabbage, okra (if you speed up the sprouting time by soaking the seeds in water), and so long as you maintain good moisture, cherry tomatoes. You are best waiting until the end of the month for the latter.

Once we move into September the options increase. Having prepped your seeds for growth in mid-Augustyou can start planting out snap beans, Brussel sprouts, cauliflower, broccoli, carrots, swiss chard, kale, English peas, Irish potatoes, collards, kale, and summer squash.

In October, you can plant beets, garlic and leaf lettuce. In November, consider adding radish and turnip to your garden.

For a comprehensive list of what to plant when, and a guide on how to build your garden before planting, visit TAMU’s website here.  You can see a comprehensive list of Texas varieties of veggies that will do well here and have you winning the battle of vegetables vs. sun.  Come fall your family will enjoy a feast of fresh vegetables!  If you want to enjoy your gardening work without being bitten call Mosquito Joe.  Remember, we will never treat your veggie garden unless the situation warrants (and we speak with you first) and then we will only use an all-natural garlic option. Our services are tailored to your yard so we can make your outside fun again while minimizing our impact to pollinators and beneficial insects.Grocery bag full of vegetables