How to Kill Fire Ants, Carpenter Ants, and Termites with Mushrooms (a Mycoremediation Crash Course)

If that title sounds too good to be true, it’s not.

Over the weekend my friends Tradd & Olga invited me over for dinner (and after eating the wild mushroom dish that Olga served you can expect a post on morel hunting soon). Tradd is a Mycologist and together they run Mushroom Mountain out of Liberty, SC. You can buy excellent fungi supplies from them but I also recommend the written and video tutorials available for free on their website.

Photo Caption: Tradd Cotter in the lab at Mushroom Mountain. The bags of sawdust on the right are mostly edible oyster mushroom cultures getting ready to be shipped.

Tradd’s lab at Mushroom Mountain is stacked with various fungal specimens in petri dishes and cultures. Among these is a species that attacks and kills fire ants. By that I mean when the fungus is applied to an ant hive the workers spread it through the colony like a disease. It is 100% effective (all the ants, including the queen, die) within 14 – 21 days. Once dead, the ants become mummified and release spores which repel future ants from moving into the area.

Using mushrooms to kill pest insects doesn’t strictly fit into the definition of mycoremediation but it involves no dangerous chemicals and is a lasting, renewable remedy. Additionally, the mushrooms are genus and sometimes species specific, so they do not attack similar native or beneficial species in the same area. Other fungus species have been cultured that kill carpenter ants or termites. An inoculated house can repel termites for over a lifetime. This is good news for homeowners, and also for our threatened native ants and the seeds of spring ephemerals that they help spread.

It’s not good news if you are in the exterminator business. Major chemical companies are fighting patent holders like Paul Stamets from being able to market it to the public but with any luck it will be available soon. If you would like to hear Paul talk about this and other mycoremediation uses for mushrooms, you can watch his TED talk here. The entire thing is mind-blowing but skip to the 12:58 mark if you just want to hear about pesticide applications.

Photo Caption: Tradd's strain of M. anis attacks fire ants. A nearly infinite quantity of fungal inoculant can be propagated from these petri cultures.

You can also watch a video of Tradd displaying a carpenter ant that has been killed and mummified by one of these mushroom species.

Note that for mycoremediation supplies you may want to email Tradd to ask if anything is available that isn’t mentioned in their store — though the fire ant mushroom isn’t being offered at this time. I’ll post about it if that changes anytime soon.

Look for multiple posts about mushroom hunting, eating, growing, and the goings-on at Mushroom Mountain in the near future.

Eliza Lord

I'm a Greenville, SC native (the Appalachian foothills) who wears the hats of Greenville Master Gardener & Upstate Master Naturalist. I love to write about food and sustainability.

26 thoughts on “How to Kill Fire Ants, Carpenter Ants, and Termites with Mushrooms (a Mycoremediation Crash Course)”

  1. Anna - February 23, 2010 7:04 pm

    Wow! I’ve read two of Paul Stamets’ books and I must have missed this part. I’ll be passing this on to my fire-ant-infested father. :-) Thanks!

    (By the way, I think that the native ants disperse the seeds of our early spring ephemerals, not pollinate them. But they are still essential!)

    Reply
    1. Sustainahillbilly
      Twitter: appalachianfeet
      - February 23, 2010 8:05 pm

      Oops… you are absolutely right about the native ants + seeds… I’ll correct that bit. I’ve got those Paul Stamets books on my reading list!

      Reply
  2. Shirley Bovshow Eden Maker - February 23, 2010 9:02 pm

    What a great catch phrase for a blog!!
    This is a very interesting post…one I haven’t come across before. It’s nice to meet you today.
    Shirley

    Reply
    1. Sustainahillbilly
      Twitter: appalachianfeet
      - February 23, 2010 9:21 pm

      Thanks! I’m hoping that this will be the standard way to control fire ants and termites in the near future. :)

      Reply
  3. Meredith - February 23, 2010 10:18 pm

    How wonderful, to have discovered a way to control this invasive species and spare our struggling natives! I’m very excited about this, and not least because I’m not a fan of the way a fire ant sting feels. 😉

    I’ve met these two, Tradd and Olga, at a Clemson Mycology Club meeting where they helped my husband and me to identify about a dozen different mushrooms we found growing in the woods around our house. F. comes from a mycophilic culture and sorely misses wild mushrooms in his cuisine, and I’m grateful to you for directing us to their very informative site. We’ll surely be availing ourselves of their knowledge and expertise on the local edibles in SC. :)

    Reply
    1. Sustainahillbilly
      Twitter: appalachianfeet
      - February 23, 2010 10:34 pm

      The next SCUMS meeting is on morel hunting… I can’t wait!

      I’m glad you got to meet Tradd and Olga; they are excellent, informative people. :)

      Reply
  4. Nathaniel
    Twitter: nhlord
    - February 24, 2010 9:35 am

    In the past year that I have known Tradd and Olga I have continually been fascinated by all the work they are doing with fungi. I think the microremediation and pesticide projects they currently have going has to be some of the coolest fungi applications I’ve heard of.

    Of course there is a lot to say about their prolific morel collecting abilities as well.

    Reply
    1. Sustainahillbilly
      Twitter: appalachianfeet
      - February 24, 2010 11:29 am

      I’m pretty excited that they were willing to share some of the morels they collected… YUM!

      Reply
  5. Dave - February 24, 2010 5:47 pm

    Wow, that could be very useful. We live just north and east of the current fire ant line in Tennessee. I’ve used other methods on mounds before that I suspected were fireants but this sounds very promising!

    Reply
    1. Sustainahillbilly
      Twitter: appalachianfeet
      - February 24, 2010 5:55 pm

      I hope that the chemical companies lose their battle to block the sale of it as soon as possible… I’m so tired of fire ants!

      Reply
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  9. Richard - July 25, 2012 12:49 am

    So awesome that I found your post here. I was googling Paul Stamets and termites and it was first! Paul is nothing short of amazing. I got to meet him in Tampa after watching him give an amazing talk. Great blog Eliza! Keep it up.

    Reply
    1. Sustainahillbilly
      Twitter: appalachianfeet
      - July 25, 2012 1:13 pm

      Hi! Very cool! If you are ever up this way we’ll take you to meet Tradd, too. (Welcome to crash on our couch/camp in the backyard with our tent).

      Reply
  10. Richard - July 25, 2012 1:04 am

    Eliza, do you know anything on the status of this court case? There’s very little info on it out there. If you have anything please do pass it along. Much love, Richard

    Reply
    1. Sustainahillbilly
      Twitter: appalachianfeet
      - July 25, 2012 1:14 pm

      I’ll ask Tradd and let you know. Every time I talk to him he sounds optimistic about getting this available to the public (wish it were sooner — fire ants drive me nuts).

      Reply
  11. Wesley Rose - December 28, 2012 9:50 pm

    Dearest in Christ,
    i’m severely disabled, in a wheelchair, and fire ants hitch rides on my chair – then onto me. I have tried many things but the ants remain. Please let me know a way to truly kill fire ants. There was only two mounds, now there are almost two dozen. I have no idea how many are in the back yard.
    Thank you from you whole heart,
    “Dr Ley”

    Reply
    1. Sustainahillbilly
      Twitter: appalachianfeet
      - January 16, 2013 9:54 am

      Unfortunately, I don’t know either. I’m hoping Mushroom Mountain is able to release their fungus cure for them soon.

      Reply
  12. Making dirt in Florida - May 23, 2013 1:46 pm

    Last year I observed large house fly’s crawl to the top of the highest points of my tomato cages and die. I made observations for the next few weeks and noticed that the fly,s seemed to become bound to the surface that they are perched on. if you look diligently you will find what you need around you. Just remember to look for bugs attached to the tips of twigs.

    Reply
  13. Joe - June 18, 2013 12:16 pm

    This method of getting rid of carpenter ants sounds wonderful!
    But I have a 2 year old at home and need to know if these spores are harmful to humans before going that route, and if so what protective measures we should take in using this method of mushrooms to rid our house of carpenter ants. Can you offer any advice on this?

    Reply
  14. Joe - June 18, 2013 12:18 pm

    Also, you might want to read an amazing article in this months Discover magazine covering this subject as well. Sorry, can’t remember the title, but remember it was a fantastic article.

    Reply
  15. Gnostic Origins - June 22, 2013 10:34 am

    While we have tracked Paul Stamets work on termites & ants, and watched “BLAST OFF” appear and disappear, we may have a remedy for fire ants. Take a bottle of club soda, open it, and jam it into the top of the crater. . . . .allegedly the inhabitants/queen cannot survive the CO2 affect on their oxygen and do not survive.. .. we have not tried this, but read it works.

    Reply
  16. Gnostic Origins - June 22, 2013 10:42 am

    Somebody also mentioned that Paul Stamets is developing, or has developed a mycological remediation for cancer. . .if anyone learns more on this, please advise/share, thanks! “Telomerase” reverse aged mice, and now a quiet global race is woriking to perfect it for human health management, by growing younger. “Ibogaine” comes from the Iboga tree in Central Africa, and complete remediates CLINICAL DEPRESSION, DRUG ADDICTION & ALCOHOLISM, (WITHOUT WITHDRAWAL SYMPTOMS) in a hallucenogenic journey requiring baby sitting the pt. As it works, it is illegal in the US but legal in Canada & Mexico where $$$clinics arose to charge unreasonable amounts. Have a Canadian order “Ibogaine” from an “Ethnobotanical Supply House” for probably under $100, test for allergic reaction, and proceed according to Sara Glatt’s recommendations (YouTube). If you reasearch this, it works, and is MEDIA banned or unmentioned for many years now. Namaste!

    Reply
  17. Howard - August 19, 2013 10:18 pm

    Do you have any more detailed information about termite control? I guess there are several types of termites. What types of termites will these shrooms control? Are there any articles that I can read on this subject? What product do you have for dry wood termites?
    Help me save my wooden house!
    Thanks,
    Howard

    Reply
  18. Bryan @ Termite Control - October 27, 2014 4:00 am

    Termites and these carpenter ants are naturally the best examples of home-invaders and possibly the worst! This mushroom is very interesting. Imagine having your very own natural repellent for this nuisance of a pest!

    Reply

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