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Fire Ants in the Pants? No, Thank You

Tuesday, June 18, 2013
  Ants.   In your yard, in your home, and in the case of toddlers, in your pants. We watch them build intricate underground societies on The Discovery Channel. We see them depicted in movies and cartoons as benevolent busybodies.   But place a "fire" in front of "ants," and well, we sit up and take notice. Fire ants. Give us your spiders, your snakes, your creepy crawlies if you must, but you can keep your fire ants. Fire ants in the pants? No, thank you, ma'am.   The good news is that fire ants (or red ants if you prefer) aren't as intrusive as other species. For the most part, they won’t acknowledge you unless you step in 'em. And then, oh boy, will they acknowledge you.   And let's be clear. The fire ants we Southerners have come to avoid actually are red invasive fire ants, "imported" from South America. Their sting is painful and plentiful. They attack en masse. On rare occasions, multiple bites can be serious, even fatal to those allergic. But mostly, they're just painful.    Their mounds pop up seemingly overnight in our yards and fields like pimples on baby-faced teenagers. Sometimes, though, fire ant mounds will appear next to garages or, because of an apparent attraction to electricity, electric utility housings.   We know of one poor soul who stopped in Conway for gas on his way home to Little Rock. He pulled up to the pump, stepped out, and 10 seconds later was being stung by a swarm of fire ants on his leg — a nest lay at the base of the pump.   Here are a few fire ant facts from the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service that can help you identify them, avoid them and perhaps even control them. Of course, Legacy can help you with that, too: Fire ants are small — about a eighth of an inch to a fourth of an inch long. Don’t confuse them with the 1 to 2 inch velvet ants. Queens, of course, are bigger and have wings. They are reddish brown. Fire ant queens live for about three years on average. Workers for just four to six weeks. The higher the temperature, the shorter the life span. Fire ants have extensive tunnel systems, sometimes reaching depths of 10 feet depending on the type of soil. They are omnivores, eating both plant and animal material.Most home remedies result simply in causing a mound to move. Some baits can be effective because they target the queen and impact her ability to reproduce. Baits have varying levels of toxicity, most not harmful to humans or pets unless consumed in large quantities. It may be possible to drown some individual fire ants, but when exposed to large quantities of water, they form floating balls (with the queen in the interior) and float to a new location. Hard Arkansas winters aren't enough to kill them. Studies show that a minimum of two weeks with temperatures at 10 degrees Fahrenheit or lower is needed to kill a significant amount of colonies. Fire ants do have natural enemies such as the Phorid fly, which lays eggs in the abdomens of individual fire ants with the larvae moving into the head, ultimately decapitating and killing the host ant. Their mere presence has been shown to impact fire ant behavior. These flies have been released in Arkansas (and other Southern states) to determine if they could have an impact on the fire ant population. No conclusions have yet been drawn. Fire ants do have a good side. They eradicate ticks and other pest insects. And as noted before, outside of erecting a mound in your yard, they generally mind their own business. If you're allergic to the sting of a fire ant, or experience shortness of breath or chest pain after a bite, seek medical help immediately - get to the ER. Otherwise, be prepared for a swelling and perhaps a white pustule (which can become infected if scratched) within a day or two of the bite (more likely, the bites). Over-the-counter items such as aloe vera and antihistamines can help with the itching. If left alone, the pustules should flatten out and be gone within a few days. Get more information from the UofA here. Legacy offers organic treatments, part of our overall home treatment package, that'll help keep them away if they do show up.    After all, nobody wants fire ants in their yard. And certainly, not in their pants.  

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