Red Imported Fire Ant1 in New Mexico: Control in Electrical Equipment and Utility Housings

Guide G-319

Carol A. Sutherland, Extension Entomologist
L. Michael English, Extension Entomologist
Ron L. Byford, Entomologist and Acting Dept. Head, Extension Plant Sciences

College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences New Mexico State University. (Print Friendly PDF)

This publication is scheduled to be updated and reissued 1/04.

Red imported fire ant (RIFA) was confirmed in several locations in Doña Ana County, New Mexico in July, 1998. This is a new pest for New Mexico, with regulatory significance as well as negative consequences for the use and enjoyment of our homes and recreational areas, and the health and well-being of people, livestock, and wildlife.

Like many other ants, fire ants frequently infest electrical equipment. They seem attracted to live electrical equipment where they sometimes chew on insulation, causing short circuits or interfering with switching mechanisms. Traffic signal boxes, air conditioners, sprinkler system controls, and other devices can be damaged. Fire ants also can nest in the housings around electrical and utility units. They will move soil into these structures, causing additional shorting and other electrical and mechanical problems.

NOTE: For obvious safety reasons, an electrician or licensed and experienced pest control operator should treat ant-infested electrical equipment. Specialized products and training are essential to treat these sites safely and effectively.

General Treatment Program

Turn off all electrical service before starting!

Treat individual mounds to eliminate colonies around electrical and plumbing casings and housings. Injectable aerosol products containing pyrethrins, or similar products, give immediate control.

Hydramethylnon bait applied to individual fire ant mounds will provide control in about a week, even if the colony is located within the structure. (For details of mound and area treatments, ask for the Extension publication about RIFA control on home lawns and other ornamental turf.)

DO NOT USE liquid drenches, sprays, or products that may damage the insulation around electrical fixtures.

BE EXTREMELY CAREFUL when applying pesticide around water systems and well heads to prevent contamination of wells and ground water. Read and follow all pesticide labels.

Once the ants are eliminated, use air pressure or clean brushes to remove debris and soil from the equipment, reducing the likelihood of short circuits.

The inside of equipment housings may be treated with several registered pesticides such as: State Fire Ant Killer (with resmethrin), Rainbow Insect Control (with chlorpyrifos), Stutton® JS 685 Powder (with synergized pyrethrins and silica gel), Ascend®, or ElastrelTM insecticide with dichlorvos.

Maintenance Options

After ants are removed from electrical equipment, prevent reinfestation and damage by: Sealing all sensitive electrical components, particularly those that are not insulated. Examples include plastic housings containing contact points of switches, relays, and circuit breakers.

Spraying long-acting contact insecticides around housings, making sure to avoid the electrical equipment.

Apply specific fire ant control products (listed above) to the housing itself.

1Order Hymenoptera; Family Formicidae; scientific name, Solenopsis invicta Buren

The information given herein is supplied with the understanding that no discrimination is intended and no endorsement by the New Mexico State University or the Cooperative Extension Service is implied.

New Mexico State University is an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer and educator. NMSU and the U.S. Department of Agriculture cooperating.

Printed January 1999
Electronic Distribution January 1999