Fire ants quarantine complicates Polk County agriculture

Published 3:04 pm Monday, November 9, 2009


This means that providers of plants, dirt and plant materials, such as hay, require a permit to ship to non-quarantined areas. According to Vining, this area has grown by 12 N.C. counties in the last year alone.

The list of the negative consequences of fire ant infestation is long and includes: lost labor and medical bills due to bites, animal injury, equipment damage and wear, forage degradation, damage to electrical equipment, infested feed.

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The sting of the fire ant is painful and very itchy. Treatment is similar to that for other insect bites, topical creams or toothpaste and/or an oral antihistamine. The sting is not fatal to people unless it results in a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis).&bsp; A massive attack can be fatal to young livestock.

It is also possible for the ants to get inside buildings. The cooperative extension advises people not to have shrubs so close to buildings that ants can use them to get in.

The Department of Entomology at North Carolina State attributes the recent rapid spread of the ant to mild winters, residential and industrial development.&bsp; Development brings infested sod, nursery stock and mulch and other materials. The ants have a very high reproductive rate and new queens may go as far as 10 miles to establish a new colony.

Now that Polk County is under the imported fire ant quarantine, nursery operators need to obtain certification to ship materials out of Polk County to any non-quarantined area, such as nearby Henderson, Buncombe and parts of Rutherford counties. Providers should contact NCDA&CS for information and assistance.

The NCDA &CS also advises people to be on the lookout for fire ants when purchasing landscaping materials. You should notify the supplier immediately if you find them in any plants, sod, straw, or mulch.

Fire ant control

The good news is that with the available baits and insecticides, it is possible to control red ant infestation in your area. Fall is a good time to treat mounds. Because they prefer moist, sunny areas, it usually is not necessary to treat densely wooded areas. The bad news is that so far there have been no successful eradications documented. Treatment will need to be repeated when new colonies emerge. Re-infestation can occur in as little as a year.

As with any treatment, particular care needs to be taken when treating pastures or crop areas to ensure that the materials are certified for that purpose. Please refer to the N.C. Agricultural Chemical Manual at for additional information about any chemical.

The Cooperative Extension office in the court house annex in downtown Columbus has additional material and will answer questions.

There are basically four types of treatment for fire ants: baits, insecticide drenches, natural drenches and natural predators. Note that spraying and granular insecticides are not effective because the treatment has to reach deep inside the mound.


With bait products, the ants take the bait into the colony, eat it and feed it to the queen.&bsp; It will wipe out the hive by interfering with reproduction. Insect specialists prefer this method because it wipes out the colony completely and is cheaper for use over large areas. Also, baits will reach small colonies which may not be apparent. However, it will take more time than the drenches. Baits work best when temperatures are consistently above 70 degrees because the ants will be actively foraging. Advance and Ascend are two brands of fire Ant bait.&bsp; Baits may have some detrimental effects on other insects and birds.

Insecticide drenches

Drenching each mound with insecticide is more expensive and time consuming but will result in immediate relief and is the best for a limited number of mounds. The best time to treat is in the heat of the day when the ants are closer to the top of the mound, enjoying the warmth. Do not apply bait if using a drench because the ants will not eat when under attack. Award, Distance, Suspend and Clinch are examples of drench insecticides.

Natural drenches

These are applied like insecticide drenches but are composed of materials that are less toxic. For example, Mosquito barrier is a liquid garlic which reportedly will drive ants from the colony and prevent reestablishment.&bsp; Diluted lye or just rapidly boiling water can be effective if the queen is killed in the process.

Natural predators

Phorid flies are natural predators of the fire ant. They have been introduced in the southeast and middle south, especially Texas, with success. These flies can be ordered on the web.