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Fire Ants are Spreading Northward
I’d almost forgotten about fire ants. I haven’t seen them since I moved from eastern North Carolina, where their presence was evident in the fields and pastures near my horse stables. I learned the hard way that when their nests were disturbed they instantly go in attack mode, swarming over the offending party and inflicting painful, stinging bites. I learned to avoid the big mounds of sand or dirt that marked a fire ant nest and the county livestock agent advised us on what to use to eradicate the ants.
Those memories came back to me when I read the periodic horse newsletter my county agent, here in central North Carolina, mailed out recently. The article titled, “Fire Ants Are Here” caught my eye between snippets about horse clinics, hay directories and pasture management tips. The ants are moving west and spreading throughout the county. The writer even said there have been reports of death to newborn foals due to fire ant stings. I had no idea they were so dangerous.
Fire Ants Arrive in Missouri
How to Control Fire Ants
Our livestock agent, Martha Mobley, gave several tips on how to control fire ants if you find they on your farm. Time is of the essence. As soon as you spot a mound on your farm treat it. Your farm supply store will have various treatments for sale. One recommended product is called Extinguish Plus. It has two agents that work on fire ant control. One is a direct toxin that will kill the adult worker ants and a growth regulator that sterilizes the queen and prevents the re-growth of the colony. It is made by Zoecon. The best time to use this product is spring and early fall. Extinguish Plus is one of several products available for fir ant control. Check with your county extension agent before you buy a product to be sure it is approved for use in your state. Some products can be used on horse pastures but not other pastures.
It is important to use up all of the product once it is opened as quickly as possible because once its oil base goes rancid the ants will not eat it. So do not buy more bait than you will use in a treatment. That is also why summer is not the best time to treat your pastures. Broadcast the product at 1-1 ½ pounds per acre. My livestock agent says if the fence lines and isolated areas within the pasture are the only places showing signs of the ants they may be treated by banded application or individual mound treatments.
Unfortunately, once fire ants have invaded your area we cannot expect to eliminate them entirely, only control them and it will be an on-going battle. If you find signs of fire ants, usually a large mound, contact your county extension office for advice on what works best in your county.
What are Fire Ants?
They are not native to the United States. The true name, imported red fire ant, clues us in to that. The ants were introduced in 1929 when dirt from South America used as ballast in a cargo ship was dumped in Alabama. Ironically red fire ants are not as big a problem in South America as they are here, presumably because in the United States the ants have fewer natural enemies. The ants have worked their way throughout the southeast since that 1929 introduction. The ants are reddish brown in color and are about 1/16 inch long. The mounds are over a foot tall and go about five feet under ground. The ants are triggered to bite by movement and they all bite in unison. They are omnivores, eating almost anything.
You can learn more about red fire ants by visiting www.fireant.net.