Master gardener: Extinguish fire ants this fall

Fire ants

Fire ants build large mounds that lack a central opening.

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Published: Friday, September 20, 2013 at 03:33 PM.

Did you know that fire ants were not always found in the Southeast?

They are originally from a relatively small area in Argentina. About a century ago, they made it to the southern United States most likely as stowaways on boats. Now ants have migrated into 11 southern states, and are in 71 of the 100 counties in North Carolina.

Why are they such a problem?

The main reason fire ants are such a problem is because they form large, aggressive colonies. Most people are familiar with fire ants because of the large mounds they create as well as the painful sting they inflict. Stings from fire ants can cause a painful, burning itching sensation, which can last for up to an hour. Within about 24 hours a raised white pustule forms at the site, and persists for many days. Although the stings are not usually life threatening they can easily become infected and leave a permanent scar.

Why are they so hard to control?

It is impossible to eradicate fire ants. They reproduce quickly and can re-invade an area readily. Unlike many insect pests, fire ants are very organized, with each ant having its own role to play in the success of the colony. Most abundant are the worker ants, whose job it is to protect and feed the queen as well as defend the nest from intruders. 

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