Red imported fire ants
A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending a garden show in Ft. Smith, Ark. I taught a seminar on problems with pine trees and also listened to several other speakers talk about various issues in the horticulture industry.
While roaming the trade show I came across a booth about Red Imported Fire Ants. It was complete with posters about their location spreading from the Carolina's to Oklahoma and all areas south covering the entire eastern half of Texas. There were pictures of their stings on one person's hand, along with facts about them such as a mature RIFA mound can contain 250,000 or more workers. My favorite part of the display booth, however, was a three-gallon, square, plastic container with Red Imported Fire Ants inside.
There were several warning signs around the container and some coating around the edge to keep the ants from crawling out. I have heard that if you stick a pencil in the center of a mound of Red Imported Fire Ants, they will make it to the top and sting you before you can let go of the pencil.
When a Red Imported Fire Ant stings it grabs onto the skin with its jaws and spins the rest of its body around in a circle stinging you several times. The most common concern is of course the stings, but also a small percentage of people can experience anaphylactic shock as a result of several stings. The tub of ants was a great way to show just how aggressive these ants can be. Just bumping the table made them upset and brought them to the surface looking for something to attack.
Their migration north is thought to be the result of ants being transported in sod or nursery stock. Be cautious when purchasing nursery plants and check that there are no ants in the potting soil.
Fire ants can cause structural damage as well as pose a threat to children and small pets. Their activity causes shorts and damage to insulation in electrical equipment . Their tunneling activity can remove soil from under roadways and sidewalks, causing cracking and collapse of pavement. Their large mounds can damage mowing and harvesting equipment .
RIFA mounds are unique in the aspect that they do not have a central entrance/exit hole. They have several underground tunnels that radiate out from the mound. For this reason, and many others, it is especially important to not try to control with diesel fuel or gasoline. Fumes and liquids will fill these radiating holes quickly and may threaten homes and outbuildings with fire.
There are poisonous baits, dusts, and drenches that are approved and safe to use for homeowners. Make sure to always follow pesticide label instructions if you do find that you have to use these to help rid your yard of these pests.