No, this is not a post about fire ants in the movie, True Grit. This is about web sources of information and misinformation. The internet is a great place for rumors to spread. People post misinformation on the web all the time. Even Yours Truly is not above mangling a few facts on occasion. One great feature of the web and blogs, is the ability of readers to talk back and correct the errors. Misinformation in textbooks can last through several editions. Websites with no comments have no checks and balances. How is a person to know if the information is correct?
It is always important to consider the source. Is the website trying to sell something? Does the information sound too good to be true? Is the website produced by a reputable source?
University Extension publications are important sources of public information. Extension publications are usually peer reviewed (fact checked) before publication. Extension sites are publicly funded (for now) so extension works for and is accountable to the public. Extension researchers often have access to facilities and equipment for testing claims. Extension organizations have reputations to maintain and are careful to present information accurately and fairly.
Back to True Grit. There are numerous false claims on the internet that suggest that grits will control fire ants. Supposedly, homeowners can sprinkle a bowl of grits on the nearby fire ant mound, the fire ants will eat the grits and it causes them to explode.
A quick glance at extension.org will link to the latest scientific information.
Research plots have demonstrated that using grits does not control fire ants. The theory behind the use of grits as a fire ant control is that the ants will eat the grits, which swell in their stomachs causing them to explode. However, since fire ant workers can’t eat solid food, this is not possible. This idea may have its origin in the fact that defatted corn grit is used as a carrier for most of the fire ant bait products
The University of Florida provides a lot of information including this tidbit for people who do not want to use synthetic insecticides.
Scalding or boiling water (190° to 212°F) has been used to eliminate colonies. Slowly pour about three gallons of hot water onto the mound. The water should drain into the vertical tunnels of the mound and eventually collapse the entire mound structure. Treatments may be more effective if applied on cool, sunny mornings. It has been reported that 20 to 60% of the mounds treated by this method have been eliminated. Several applications may be needed, and hot water may injure plants adjacent to treated mounds. One must be very careful when using hot water to avoid burning oneself.
(Don’t pour boiling water on your foot!)