Preventing fire ants
Radio interview source: Linda Hooper-Bui, entomologist, Louisiana State University Ag Center
Don't let ants hitch a ride
I'm glad that I live in a part of the country where it gets so cold I don't have to worry about an invasion of fire ants. I've visited farms in the South and have seen the huge ant mounds. A nest that is a foot tall is very intimidating! I stay far away. The bite and sting of fire ants poses a serious threat to humans and animals, causing pain, swelling, itching, and often, infections.
Linda Hooper-Bui is an entomologist at the Louisiana State University Ag Center and says fire ants have invaded the Southeast, the Southwest, and have marched as far north as Kansas and Maryland. One way fire ants spread is by hitchhiking on plants. In fact, there's a federal quarantine on nursery material from ant-infested areas, but she says gardeners should still keep an eye out for them.
"Simply shaking a potted plant and letting go and then watching the reaction to make sure there are no ants boiling out of the plant, will ensure they're not bringing them into their landscape for the first time," Hooper-Bui says. "Buy certified soil and turf and make sure there are no ants in there."
Send them packing
Once you have fire ants, it's very difficult and costly to get rid of them, so the best defense is to build an army of your own and suppress them with a neighborhood effort that includes ant bait -- and a party.
"Create a weekend where you 'put the fire out' or have a 'fire ant funeral' or something like that, and get the neighborhood together and get everybody to treat their fire ants at the same time," Hooper-Bui says. "That radically suppresses the population, people can use less bait, and also it costs less because they're sharing the cost with their neighbors. Also, the treatment will last around three times longer than if they didn’t work with their neighbors."
There are a couple of popular bait control methods. One has a chemical in it that saps all the ants' energy, and they slowly die over about a week or so. The other bait that works well is called an "insect growth regulator." It literally shuts down reproduction of the colony. The queen can't lay any more eggs and her brood won't turn into adults.
Red imported fire ants: Get the latest news and information on fire ants, download fact sheets, and take a quiz to test your ant knowledge.
Texas Imported Fire Ant Research and Management Project: Learn how to identify and control fire ants on your property.
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