Others are winning the war on fire ants that we have lost

Published 9:48 am Friday, October 25, 2019

Monday’s rain brought a typical early fall reaction: new fire ant mounds popped up.

The live ant colonies were already there out of sight below ground since the soil was still warm enough. With new moisture, fast-working worker ants built upwards to get fellow ants of all ages and social standings to higher ground. Now I get to make one more mound-treating foray around the yard.

I long ago conceded pasture, pond bank and semi-maintained areas will always have ant mounds. Even longer ago I accepted what all baby boomers must: fire ants will be with us to the end.

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Those of us old enough recall when the government made an attempt to eradicate fire ants. That was back in the late 1960s and early 70s when fire ants were problematic in Hattiesburg and McComb but had not reached Tunica and Iuka.

Those of us near Baton Rouge were pulling for victory over ants, but it was not to be. The square miles of ant territory was too much. The attempt came after 30 years of ants multiplying, taking over more land and colonizing in too many cracks and crevices. 

There really was no way to reach a 100 percent of ants with aerial bombardment of insecticides. Plus, upon further review, the insecticides used were environmentally unfriendly because of their persistence.

They just did not break down and go away quickly, not on land, in water nor in the intestines of very small animals. The federal program was abandoned. 

There was a later period when some state and local governments purchased one of the much safer and still used ant baits for distribution to residents. But again, it was not nearly enough to treat all the ant mounds. Eventually, the same product became available to all at retail price. 

We still had ants but some folks missed the “free ant poison.” Please say “product” or “toxin” instead of “poison.”

There are to this day countries with active government fire ant eradication, suppression or containment programs. Several of those countries are in Asia plus Australia and New Zealand. They had two major advantages over our country’s early dealings with the ants accidentally imported from South America.

For one, the Southeast U.S. provided the example of decades of ant problems. Plus there were improvements in communication and information exchange over time. The internet can spread ant warnings faster than ants.

It wasn’t until the early 2000s that places outside South and Central America and us hosted the bad fire ant species. 

Those previously uninfected places were on the lookout for them. They were inspecting incoming shipments containing plants, potting soil and crops for ants that might hitch a ride. Their very earliest infestations became Ground Zero for ant control. 

There are areas and zones abroad that have totally eradicated fire ants by getting after the very first colonies.  Other areas are keeping them hemmed up for now. 

The residents and their scientists and governments know vigilance and quick response are absolute musts to keep imported red fire ants at bay.


Terry Rector writes for the Warren County Soil and Water Conservation District.