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Fire Ants


One of the most common creatures out here in the country is the fire ant.  Anyone who has a yard and lives in this part of the country knows all about them.  They are busy building mounds and busy looking for something to eat.  Of the over 200 species of fire ant found around the world, ours is the Red Imported Fire Ant which was imported into the Mobile, AL area in the 1930's probably from Australia.  Unlike most of it's distant relations, our fire ant is aggressive and wants to take over the world.  It has spread from Alabama to at least 15 states - across the entire Gulf Coast and up the East Coast as far as North Carolina, to the west through Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and up the West Coast to Northern California. The colonies, meaning the queen, can live for up to 7 years and are difficult to eradicate.  

On the downside, the Red Imported Fire Ant has a sting that's painful, they will swarm on you if you disturb their mound, each ant can sting multiple times and each sting will result if a small pustule that continues to hurt for a couple of days and can easily get infected if ruptured.  And if there is a flood, the ants will swarm together and float about till they reach solid ground.  Oh yeah, the fire ants have no sense of humor.  Like any sting, if you are allergic it can be life threatening.  For most of us it's just really annoying.

On the upside, the fire ants will eat all sorts of small insects and arthropods including flea larvae, ticks, grub worms, chinch bugs and cockroach eggs.  Hooray!

I bring all this up because I was stung several times in the last couple of days.  I've lived in this part of Texas for over 30 years and I've become very familiar with fire ants.  I generally can go months and months and not get stung.  I know what the mounds look like.  I walk the property with my head down scanning what's in front of me.  I look for fire ant mounds and snakes mostly.  I know not to go outside without shoes.  I know not to pick up anything that's been on the ground for very long without carefully checking it for ants first. So what happened?  I'm not sure.

I went out to feed the llamas and in the process of pouring cups of feed into their feed bins I leaned my arm on the top of the fence.  Ouch!  Three stings on my arm near my elbow.  I was washing out a dog crate so I could take it to my daughter for her new puppy. I was using the hose, which the ants actively dislike, and wham! - on the top of my foot inside my sandal.  Ouch!  And this morning I was feeding the goats and realized I had something crawling inside my blouse.  Ouch!  Three stings on my left breast.  I'm sorry, but that is way too personal an area to be invaded by a fire ant.

It is possible to treat the mounds with insecticide and kill them.  The general consensus is to broadcast granules all over your yard in the spring and fall and follow that up by treating any mounds that remain individually.  Unfortunately, that is quite a bit of insecticide for a place that has goats and llamas and an alpaca along with cats and a dog.  Back when we lived in Simonton, TX I decided to eliminate all the fire ants from my front yard.  I worked on it steadily for a couple of years and managed to get the number of mounds down to just a few.  I didn't treat the pastures where the horses were.  In the end I stopped treating the yard and the number of mounds did increase but never to a horribly high number.

At this point my larger concern for the goats is my infestation of sticker burrs.