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New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

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Entomologist Recommends Ways to Help Manage Fire Ants

LAS CRUCES Ð Red imported fire ants can invade yards, gardens, fields and even crawl inside homes. But there are ways to help control them.

Colonies of red imported fire ants were confirmed recently in Do-a Ana County, said Carol Sutherland, entomologist with New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service. Although fire ants have made their way into the state in the past, this is new pest for New Mexico -- the first time relatively widespread infestations have been found.

"Homeowners who notice unfamiliar ant mounds in their yard and aggressive ants that bite and sting may have a fire ant problem," she said.

Ant baits available in hardware stores and nurseries can be used to help control fire ants, Sutherland said. Baits are slow- acting and take days to a few weeks to achieve control.

"The advantage is that these products will eventually kill or sterilize the queen, causing the colony to collapse," she said. Applications should be made at least twice a year because fire ants can and will re-invade treated areas.

Pouring boiling water down mounds also can reduce ant problems, Sutherland said. This method can be tedious and unpleasant when it's been hot and humid.

Other treatments include using contact insecticides applied as drenches, dust or granules, she said. Read all labels to make sure the product will work on fire ants, and follow instructions carefully, she advised.

Fire ants will attack anything that disturbs them and can sting repeatedly, Sutherland said. "The ant bites with its jaws and pulls a piece of skin up, then whips its abdomen around and stings you. That's when the venom is injected."

Children and older adults can be more susceptible to fire ant stings, she said. Kids may not notice the ants and the elderly can't get to safety in time.

Symptoms of a fire ant sting include burning, itching and a white pustule that forms in a day or two on top of the usual wheal. People who experience nausea, severe sweating, chest pains, slurred speech or loss of breath should get medical treatment immediately.

To the naked eye, fire ants are hard to distinguish from other ants, Sutherland said. But they do have some visible characteristics.

" In outdoor light, they appear very black and shiny," she said. " If you break open a nest, they move very fast. Hundreds, possibly thousands of ants, will rush out quickly."

The worker ants are wingless, sterile females that protect the queen from intruders, Sutherland said. The winged forms -- reproductives -- live in the mound until their mating flight, which usually occurs soon after a rainy period.