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Fire ants are coming to local area

Fire ants are coming to local area

Posted: Tuesday, June 26, 2012 8:00 pm

By RICK STUTTS
Paul Revere once said “The British are coming.” If he were alive today, he might be saying, “The fire ants are coming.”
Fire ants are an invasive, stinging ant that are slowly moving north. These ants are already established all over the southeast United States and more than half of Tennessee. Since the three counties that I provide forestry services to are Weakley, Henry and Obion, these three counties are the ones I am most concerned with. What has got my attention and why I am writing this, is I have recently discovered two fire ant mounds. One of these mounds is near Dresden in Weakley County and the other is near Puryear in Henry County. There is no telling of how many other mounds there are scattered in these counties. Supposedly these mounds I found are in front of the migration. Did you know that all of Carroll County, all of Benton County and around half of Gibson County are already infested and are called quarantined areas? It is just a matter of time before my three counties will be called that, also.
Fire ants produce a mound, which is really the excavated soil from their network of numerous tunnels below. There is usually no exit hole on that top of the mound, as they exit from the sides. These mounds can be 18 inches tall and contain 14,000,000,000,000 ants. I am just kidding about their number, but it is a bunch. Any disturbance to the mound produces a wave of mad ants. These ants have pinchers on their head (mandibles) and a stinger on their rear. They use the mandibles to secure themselves to whatever they are about to inflict pain to, and then sting you with their two-inch long stinger (just kidding about that, too). The venom from their stinger creates a burning sensation, thus the name fire ant. The biggest problem is the sheer number of ants that attack. There have been cases of newborn calves being accidentally born on the top of a mound and dying from all the stings.
There are three types of ants in a colony; the queen, the males and the workers. A queen is the largest and most important individual in the colony and can live six to seven years. Her primary function is reproduction and boy is she good at it; up to 3,500 eggs a day. If she dies, that colony usually dies. The males live only four to five days and their sole purpose is to mate with the queen. The workers live for around a month and are the do alls. They are also the ones that do the stinging.
When the population of a mound becomes large, the queen will produce winged male and female reproductive ants. These ants leave the colony in a massive mating flight. After females are fertilized, they land and shed their wings and start a new colony. I guess the object is to eliminate the colony before it gets large.
So what are we to do? If you find a mound, contact Dale Gallimore, who is with the Tennessee Department of Agriculture — Regulatory Services at (731) 514-9522. You can also contact your local UT Extension Office, or you can simply call me. There are ways to eliminate these mounds that are in front of the migration. One day, there may be too many to eliminate, because the fire ants are coming!
Rick Stutts is the area forester for the Tennessee Division of Forestry. He may be contacted at his Dresden office at (731) 364-3430.

Published in The Messenger 6.26.12

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