Q&A on Kill a Fire Ant… & Red Harvester Ants


After sending out the blog on Kill a Fire Ant – Save a Prairie Chicken to the Texas Master Naturalists (TMN) listserve, two TMNs from west Texas replied with questions about the effect of the ant bait on red harvester ants, food of the horned lizard, which is on the threatened list. Their questions and the answers are posted below.

First question:

​———- Forwarded message ———-
From: ​​Jan Carrington
Subject: Re: [TMN] Fwd: [New post] Kill A Fire Ant – Save A Prairie Chicken

I’m a Texas Master Naturalist and have a question.  Doesn’t poisoning fire ants also poison red harvester ants, which are the primary food source for Texas’ precious Horned Lizards?

Jan Carrington
Big Country Chapter


2nd question:
​———- Forwarded message ———-
From: Larry Snyder
Subject: Question

…I’m a member of the Rolling Plains Chapter of Master Naturalist. I received your crowdrise save our chickens email today.

I admit to not knowing a great deal about the Attwater Prairie Chicken range. Does their range overlap at all with the Texas Horned Lizard?

If so, your email indicated that the fire ant bait is safe for endemic critters. Does that include the harvester ant?

If it is safe for Harvester Ants while being effective in killing fire ants, rather than simply making them relocate,  I’d be interested in knowing the brand of pesticide you’re using so we might use it in our area.

I’m afraid to use any fire ant killer for fear of also killing the harvester ants in the area.

Looking forward to hearing from you.

Larry Snyder

—————-Responses (in chronological order) —————-

First response:

From: L SHEN
To: Keel, Danny; Jan Carrington
Subject: Question concerning: Kill A Fire Ant – Save A Prairie Chicken
Hi Jan,

Great question. I have forwarded your question to Danny Keel of the Conservation Department at the Houston Zoo. His department works both with the prairie chickens and the horned lizard…

I did find these two paragraphs in a tpwd publication:

…However, fire ants are impacting harvester ant populations by competitive exclusion. Generally fire ants do not kill harvesters directly. Instead, they efficiently harvest food within the harvester’s foraging zone, thus eventually starving the colony.

Indiscriminate use of insecticides, however, has also taken a heavy toll on harvester populations. Many people have waged war directly on harvester ant colonies not realizing how fascinating and valuable they are. I believe that many people would not have poisoned colonies had they known how critical harvesters are to the survival of horned lizards…

Sounds like it’s a balancing act.



Second Response:

​Keel, Danny wrote:


I work in the Bird Department at the Houston Zoo. For specific surveys on Horned Lizard populations on the refuge I’d suggest contacting the APCNWR [Attwater Prairie Chicken National Wildlife Refuge]. To my understanding, RIFA [red imported fire ants] have out-competed most Texas native ants on the refuge and have completely overrun the area. The best answer I can give is: yes, the bait is indiscriminate between RIFA and Red Harvester Ants, but RIFA have nearly eliminated the Carpenter ants from the area. Conservation is indeed a continual balancing act, especially when dealing with invasive species. The Wildlife Biologists at the APCNWR are constantly considering all the impacts and consequences of their actions. Perhaps when the RIFA population is controlled, we can hope to see the natural return of Red Carpenter ants into the area, or possibly even reintroduce them.


Danny Keel

Third response:

———- Forwarded message ———-
From: Jan Carrington
Subject: Re: Question concerning: Kill A Fire Ant – Save A Prairie Chicken

Thank you so much for the quick replies, Danny and Lan. Out here in west Texas, we have plenty of fire ants, but have lots of harvester ants also. And, we still have horned lizards!  We’ve been trying to balance the whole ant thing, too, but since we still have quite healthy populations of harvester ants and other native ants, we try to encourage folks to not poison the fire ants in order to protect the native ants.  It definitely provides a good example of the delicate balancing act in ecosystem management.

Again, thank you so much for your response.