It often seems as if chickens are little mobile garbage disposals, happy to munch on just about any veggies, fruits, bugs, and other food scraps they find!
If you have a flock of your own, you’ve likely noticed your birds foraging and pecking at insects, perhaps including even destructive ones like fire ants!
But is this safe for your flock, and what all should you know about your chickens eating these frustrating little red bugs?
It is generally safe for chickens to eat fire ants (and the ants’ larvae) here and there, but it’s best to keep your chickens away from large colonies of fire ants. When provoked, a colony of fire ants can attack and seriously injure a chicken with their painful stings.
Curious to know more about your chickens’ sudden affinity for fire ants?
Keep reading to learn about the potential safety concerns and when to take action against any fire ant nests surrounding your coop.
Will Chickens Eat Fire Ants?
Chickens are some of the animal kingdom’s most opportunistic omnivores!
They are incredibly hardy animals and expert foragers, and they aren’t very picky when it comes to what they eat.
On any given day, a chicken’s diet will potentially be made up of a combination of grains, grasses, nuts, fruits and veggies, and a wide range of different insects!
Some chickens will even attempt to chow down on small lizards and frogs out of curiosity and boredom, but they tend to avoid fussing with larger prey.
When it comes to a chicken’s preferred insects, anything small and abundant will be an excellent snack for them.
Ants, including carpenter ants, black garden ants, and fire ants, are among the most common bugs they’re likely to come across when searching for food.
And depending on where you live, fire ants are likely on the birds’ menu!
There are more than 200 different species of fire ants within a single genus, Solenopsis, all of which have their unique habitats and geographical ranges, and chickens will gladly make a meal out of just about all of them!
However, it’s important to remember the main traits unifying these many fire ant species are their powerful stinging and swarming abilities and the ability to join together and build huge, complex mounds.
While it’s technically fine for your chickens to eat fire ants, they risk being attacked and overwhelmed by the ants if they stumble upon a particularly large colony.
Is It Safe For Chickens to Eat Fire Ants?
As we briefly touched on above, it’s generally safe for your chickens to forage for fire ants (and most types of ants in general) to their hearts’ content.
They will also feed on the ants’ larvae.
This is perhaps the biggest bonus about chickens and owning them–they love eating the annoying backyard pests we hate.
However, there are some potential dangers to keep in mind, especially if you have large fire ant colonies around your coop where your birds can regularly access them!
While a single chicken can quickly overtake a single ant or even a relatively large group of the little red bugs, it’s important to remember fire ants are swarming, colony-building insects.
Where there’s one, there’s likely hundreds or even thousands more lurking in a mound or satellite nests nearby!
When provoked, a large fire ant colony can quickly organize and attack in unison, making them a danger to chickens.
They’ve even managed to kill humans with just a few hundred stings in very rare cases.
When they sense an aggressor nearby, the colony of ants will instantly leap into action, even moving directly up vertical surfaces, to sting their perceived threat defensively.
As a hazardous type of ant, they can quickly climb up a chicken’s legs and begin inflicting excruciating stings.
And, again, even though it often takes hundreds of fire ant stings to seriously harm or kill a human, much less are needed to kill a small bird like a chicken.
Essentially, if you know there are large fire ant colonies around your coop (or, worse, your hens’ nest box), it’s probably worth looking into getting rid of them out of an abundance of caution or at least keeping a close watch on them in case they grow in size or move closer to your coop.
Getting Rid of Fire Ants Around Your Coop
If you’ve assessed the fire ants around your chicken coop and have decided you want to simply get rid of the pesky insects completely, you’re likely understandably worried about finding chicken-safe methods of pest control.
Many types of baits and poisons intended for ants are also harmful to small pets and animals, making bait applications unsafe (and even outright deadly) for chicken coops and barns.
Fortunately, there are a couple of options available to you which don’t require the use of poisons, ant baits, or other potentially harmful substances.
One of the best methods to eliminate unwanted pests like fire ants is to use diatomaceous earth.
Diatomaceous earth, found here on Amazon, is a fine, grey powder made up of the crushed, fossilized remains of diatoms, a type of single-celled algae.
It’s harmless to humans and most animals, but it’s a quick death sentence for insects like fire ants.
The microscopic edges of the fossilized diatoms are just sharp enough to pierce the ants’ exoskeletons and rapidly dehydrate them.
By applying food-grade diatomaceous earth to the individual fire ant colonies and trails, you’ll be able to make quick work of even the most stubborn fire ants without contacting a pest control professional or using any costly, toxic ant control products.
It’s an inexpensive and excellent long-term control option and safe to use around the coop, and ants tend to destroy other wooden structures!
Alternatively, some chicken keepers have also found success in their ant control efforts by simply pouring boiling water over fire ant mounds near their coops.
This is an entirely free ant control method, but you’ll need to apply the hot water away from any plants you want to keep (and, of course, apply it far enough away from your chickens’ sensitive feet and skin!).
Soapy water is also often used, as the soap irritates and damages the ants’ exoskeletons.
What Other Insects Can Chickens Eat?
The same old chicken feed day in and day out gets boring for many chickens.
Thankfully, there are many different kinds of insects, arachnids, and invertebrates your birds will also munch on!
Chickens are a useful pest control method for managing insect populations and other bugs like ticks and termites.
Here’s a list of some of the many insect treats your chickens can safely eat, provided the bugs aren’t coated in any harmful pesticides:
- Ants* (*remember, large colonies of stinging ants are potentially dangerous to chickens!)
- Various insect larvae
- Black soldier flies (and their larvae)
Many of these little invertebrates are packed with nutrients your chickens need to thrive, such as calcium, protein, and phosphorus!
Your backyard is a huge fresh food source for your chickens, and your flock is an awesome pest control system!