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Darrell Blackwelder column: Fire ants are out in force this fall

The dreaded raised mounds of soil in lawns, landscapes and other areas have many people in a panic.
A raised mound of soil is a sure indicator of fire ants. Infestations of fire ants have had Cooperative Extension’s phone lines busy for the past few days. These insects have been very active because of the recent rains and warm temperatures.
The ants were isolated to only a few areas in Salisbury and some parts of southern Rowan County until this year. Now the pest is more widespread throughout the county and very active in some lawns.
Fire ants are easily spread throughout the county on soils from nurseries, construction equipment, recreational vehicles and hay.
Fire ants are very protective, delivering a powerful sting. Their sting creates a n itch with a raised pustule that often becomes infected and may leave a permanent scar.
They are particularly dangerous because they congregate in great numbers, quickly stinging the victim in unison. Small children, farm animals and those with allergies to insect stings are at great risk.
Fire ants look like a typical ant in your lawn; they are not large, but they can be multicolored. These are social insects build a colony of thousands, like yellow jackets or termites. The queen mates in flight, starting a new colony laying up to 300 egg a day, reigning over the colony up to seven years.
Fire ants prefer open, sunny areas such as lawns or pastures for their nesting site, active in the fall when temperatures are at or near 70 degrees. The best way to control fire ants is with baits.
Amdro and Spectracide Fire Ant Killer are both very effective, but not immediate. Workers carry the toxic bait sprinkled around the mound to the queen, eventually killing her and the colony. If fire ant mounds pose an immediate hazard to people, especially children, drench with a lawn insecticide such as Sevin or Merit. Be sure to keep kids and pets away from the treated areas.
Using boiling water, gasoline, grits and other home remedies is ineffective and often dangerous. Fire ants are well organized and adaptive with a series of tunnels. They move quickly to safe havens when threatened.
Go to www.ces.ncsu.edu/ depts/ent/notes/Urban/ifa.htm for more complete information about fire ants and their control.
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Darrell Blackwelder is an Extension agent in horticulture at the Rowan Cooperative Extension. Contact him at 704-216-8970.

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