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The Fire Ant

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Essay title: The Fire Ant

The Fire Ant (general overview and personal perspectives)

The “Fire Ant” is one of the most feared migratory arthropods in North America. The first non-native species was introduced into the Port of Mobile, Alabama, starting in 1919, through soil ballast, from South American ships, being dumped ashore. The black fire ant (Solenopsis richteri Forel) arrived sometime in 1919, and the red fire ant (Solenopsis invicta Buren) sometime in the late 1930’s; both much more aggressive and harsh than their two sister species of fire ants, the Tropical fire ant (Solenopsis xyloni McCook) and the Southern fire ant (Solenopsis geminata Fabricius), which are considered native to North America. The presence of imported fire ants within United States boarders was first reported in 1929.

Currently, the IFA (imported fire ant) is found in eleven states (over 300 million acres) , with sporadic, isolated showings as far west as California and as far north as Kansas and Maryland. The surge in fire ant migration came right after world war two, with the housing boom. The migration of fire ants was mostly associated with the mass movement of grass sod and decorative plants for landscaping purposes. However, “In 1958, the Federal Fire Ant Quarantine was implemented [to] try to limit the spread of fire ants from the quarantined areas. Hay, sod, plants and used soil moving equipment must me inspected and/or treated before being moved out of the quarantine area.” The IFA migration methods include “…seasonal relocations, migration in nursery stock, natural flights, and after floods rafting on water. Ants can be blown by the wind 12 miles during mating flights. They can “hitchhike” on birds [or other animals] or mass together to form a floating ball to ride out a flood.” It is estimated that a fire ant colony can expand 20-30 miles per year based on mating flights alone.

The IFA migration fear is due to damage to people, but also damage to crops and property. Currently, the IFA is known “…as damaging 57 different species of cultivated plants” including wheat, cotton, corn, sorghum seed, soybean, blueberry, peanut, sunflower, watermelon, cannot

aloupe, cucumber, pecan, eggplant, okra, strawberry, and potato in addition to property, fire ants have been associated with may outdoor electrical equipment, due to their strong attraction to electrical and magnetic fields and impulses. The effected items where fire ants have been known to nest and be found include: gasoline pumps, traffic lights, electrical and telephone transformers/boxes, air conditions (many, many cases) heat pumps, TV’s, computers, walls and plumbing insulation, water meters, insulation of electrical wiring causing electrical disruptions, and beside and beneath roadways. There have been reported cases of roadways collapsing because of fire ants removing massive amounts of soil beneath the road. Because of their mounds and nesting habits, fire ants have caused many closing of athletic fields, school playgrounds, and campgrounds (much of this closing is due to the fear and stigma behind the fire ant. This fear and stigma will be discussed later.)

More than its damage-causing tendency, the fire ant is feared because of its fierce sting. The fire ant sting is characteristic, with its “fiery” burning sensation, giving the ant its (common) name. Areas where there is a large colony can, and should be, considered dangerous. “In infested areas, fire ant stings occur more frequently than bee, wasp, hornet, and yellowjacket stings. Stepping on a fire and mound is almost unavoidable, especially when walking in heavily infested areas. Furthermore, many mounds are not easily seen, with many lateral tunnels extending several feet away from the mound just beneath the soil surface. Ants defend these tunnels as part of their mound.” The ant grabs onto the skin with barbed mandibles, then doubles over its abdomen and stings with it “stinger” (an ovipositor, considering the only fire ants that sting are the workers, who are sterile females.) The fire ant will sting even after its venom sack is depleted of its venom. It is known that once a fire ant nest is disturbed, or one ant releases an alarm pheromone, ants will swarm the nest and the area around it, in defense, for over 8 minutes. “In the U.S, they will storm anything that threatens their mound or looks like food, whether it be old people, crawling babies, injured waterfowl, newborn rabbits and fawns, bedridden hospital patients, or you just walking along.” “A person who stops to stand on a mound or on one of its tunnels, or who leans against a fence post included in the defended area, can have hundreds of ants rush out to attack.” Usually, the ants will be swarming a person (or animal) for 10 seconds before

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