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Green Industry News JUNE 2019

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Fire Ants Crawling Forward 

fire ants walkingFire ants, while not the most desired of species in our landscapes, nurseries and turf areas are actually very magnificent creatures. Most people think of them as simple insect pests with typical insect instincts. However, did you know that these small creatures have a very structured society with well-defined roles?
They do! Fire ants have a caste system, that from the time of their birth (actually they hatch from eggs) to the time they die, they have a job assignment.
Some are groomed and fed specific foods to prepare them to be royalty; to be the reproductive members of the “kingdom”.
Small ants tend to be designated to stay in the colony and tend to the young; I like to think that they are the teachers and childcare workers.
The medium-sized ants often end up bouncing back and forth foraging and bringing in food and other resources to help the colony and assisting with internal affairs in the colony.
Larger ants are those that we may most often encounter in our nurseries and landscapes. These ants are designated to be the protecting army – (perhaps we could say that they are a combination of law enforcement, firemen, and first responders) of the colony. When disaster strikes or a threat seems to be present the larger ants will spring into action. Flooding may mean they become living bridges to transport the rest of the colony to safety; cold weather may mean they burrow their nests deeper into the earth; animals or humans that pose a perceived threat to the colony may be stung severely to distract them in order to defend their “queen” and the other subjects.
This last group has turned fire ants into a pest. Over the last few years, fire ant armies have slowly marched forward, crawling on all six legs, until they arrived in the Carolinas. Every few years, new colonies have emerged in various places in the state and our colleagues at N.C. Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services have needed to add new counties to the list of those that are quarantined. Currently, there are over 75 counties or portions of counties that have become under this quarantine.

Fire AntInterested in finding out more on the biology of Fire Ants?

What Does Being “Quarantined” Mean To Most Of Us In The Green Industry?

  • Nurseries in quarantined counties must treat all of their plants with insecticides prior to shipping them out of the quarantined area.
  • Sod produces must also be inspected and treat their sod before it is sold
  • Hay and straw producers must have their products inspected and permits made before it is sold into other areas.
  • Individuals that rake and bale pine straw (AKA pine-needles, pine-tags) must have their products inspected and/or treated.
  • Landscapers should be diligent to make sure that the plants and other products they purchase from quarantined areas are inspected, certified, and if necessary treated. This is to avoid introducing fire ants into a newly installed landscape or turf area.
While fire ants pose little harm, per se, to our landscape plants and turf, we as humans tend to be perceived as enemy’s to these small creatures and their defense system snaps into overdrive when our activities encounter or disturb their colonies. While they will feed on plant material their primary diet may consist of other insects and small animals. So in many ways they can be beneficial organisms, keeping check on the balances of nature. However, out landscapes and homes aren’t always congruent to the natural environment, and we enjoy using our turf areas for athletic activities; our parks for walking our dogs, getting exercise, or just relaxing; and our lawns for many outdoor activities. Fire ants aren’t compatible with those activities and often result in people or pets being bitten.
As an industry we have an obligation to our clients to reduce these risks. So anything that we can do to reduce the spread of fire ants and manage them when or where we find them is a must.

More Helpful Resources

NCDA&CS – Agricultural Review Quarantine area for Imported Fire Ant Expanded

The imported fire ant first entered the United States through Alabama in 1918. It was first identified in the state in Brunswick County in 1957. As it spread and became established, it was recognized as an aggressive pest of farmlands, pastures,…

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Red Imported Fire Ant in North Carolina

This publication discusses the biology and spread of fire ants and the various methods that can be used to control these ants…

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North Carolina Expands Fire Ant Quarantine Zone

Imported red fire ants are known for building large mounds that get in the way of everything from lawn mowing to crop harvesting. They swarm aggressively when disturbed, and defend themselves with painful, venomous stings…

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