The importance of fire ant control in everyday life
Austin M. Frishman, Ph.D.
Red imported fire ants (Solenopsis invicta) were introduced into Mobile, Alabama almost 90 years ago. Now they are well-established from coast to coast and are still spreading in some areas. Here are a few situations that show just how destructive and widespread these pests are:
- Twenty years ago, fire ants killed approximately 22,000 rainbow trout along the Guadalupe River in Texas. When the fire ants swarmed, thousands landed in the river and were eaten by the trout. The park service now stocks the river with rainbow trout after fire ants swarm.
- I noticed cattlemen in the Waco, Texas area were having their cows give birth to calves in the colder winter months, because fire ants were killing newborn calves during the spring.
- In Mississippi, I once watched fire ants trail into warehouses, tear open bags of rice and systematically carry rice away in darkened areas where no one noticed.
- There have been reports of fire ants entering nursing homes and attacking patients, sometimes resulting in death. This often happens when fire ants are resting at a lower altitude than the structure. After heavy rain, fire ants move upward toward the structure and can easily enter rooms on lower floors, if air conditioners are installed in the windows.
- I was once doing field training in Houston, Texas and bent down to show technicians how rodents can enter exterior doors. Within 10 seconds, I had more than 100 fire ants painfully stinging my legs and hand. If fire ants are disturbed, one will discharge a signal that immediately brings hundreds more to come attack repeatedly. Since then, I am much more cautious.
- When Hurricane Katrina hit Louisiana and Mississippi, emergency trailers were brought into affected areas. Once in place, they were inundated with fire ants, which gathered in a ball and floated to survive before eventually moving to high ground.
Here are few principles to keep in mind when approaching fire ants:
- If you knock out one or two mounds, they will be rapidly replaced with new ones. Think about zone control: a broader-area program approach will allow for better results.
- Mounds near sidewalks and adjacent to structures need rapid destruction, while mounds further away can be controlled over time. Drenching mounds can provide quick results: Advion® fire ant bait from Syngenta can ensure total colony control within 24-72 hours.
- During the summer, apply fire ant bait in the late afternoon and evening. Fire ant bait can heat up and become less palatable when applied in the morning.
- Be aware that fire ants evolve: mounds may be visible initially, but over time, multiple queens develop and smaller, less conspicuous mounds are created.
- Changes in weather conditions might require changes to the protocol you initially selected to control the fire ants.
These fire ant damage and health-related concerns exemplify why your role in pest management is so important. Always proceed with caution and knowledge when tackling fire ants to ensure a successful job.
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