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The Cooperative Extension way of "taking the fire out of fire ants"

By Sam Groce
Posted Wednesday, September 28, 2011

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Pittsboro, NC - We would like to respond to Virginia Mary Jacks' strategy for managing fire ants and her wish that "the extension office would remind us of our options to go green!!" We're pleased that she has found the pleasure of watching her rooster's amusement with fire ants. Our sign-in records don't give any indication that she attended our program on fire ants last week, so she may not be in the best position to evaluate whether any of the options we suggested are green. But she does open the door for us to reach a broader audience via the Chatlist. Those who joined us last week, may have heard us suggest that:

* Most fire ants do not merit human concern. In the 80 or so years red imported fire ants have been in North America, one of the things we have learned is that we will not eradicate them. We learn to accept them and deal specifically with those that are likely to cause problems for humans, pets, or livestock. While most mounds are not worthy of our attention, for about 1% of our population they are a deadly threat.

* Fire ants are beneficial insects that feed largely on other insects. Perhaps not an extremely efficient means of insect control but like all other animals, just one more with whom we share our world.

* Perhaps the most valuable control that we enjoy is the fact that native ants prevent as many at 80-90% of mated queens from getting a mound established. Native ants defend their territory and food supply by attacking and killing these invaders.

* Because product oriented strategies may affect all ants, the more we use these products the more likely we are to lose native ants and have to do more of the work ourselves. We can protect the native ants by avoiding broad spectrum treatments.

* When speaking of fire ants in pastures we suggested to farmers (perhaps light-heartedly yet with research based merit) spending up to $20,000 for equipment that allows the producer to work through mounds without damaging equipment and avoiding the need to do anything about the fire ants.

* All the product oriented strategies have advantages and disadvantages. We suggested repeatedly that one of the most effective products bears the seal of the Organic Materials Review Institute. Another of the active ingredients is routinely used directly on pets to prevent infestation by ticks. The amount of active ingredient that goes directly on pets is more than 600 times more concentrated than the same material when used for fire ants. Most pet owners seem to think the disadvantage of tick infestation outweighs the disadvantage of applying an insecticide to their pets.

We don't know if any of this is green. Our job is not to persuade you of any particular strategy but, as suggested, to remind you of the options. One of the challenges we face is limiting ourselves to research based information that can be predictably replicated rather than passing along anecdotes that may work occasionally.

For instance research suggests that when birds eat fire ants, stings received in the throat or crop may cause them to go "off feed" for long enough to affect economics of production. Those who depend on raising a flock of broilers produced for meat or for egg production and sales may consider that a disadvantage.

We are also challenged by the fact that many of our family, friends, neighbors, and critics seem to want a product that they can apply and be done with a problem. And while we spend a lot of time suggesting to these folks that most products have advantages and disadvantages and are a short term solution to a long term problem, people who don't attend our programs seem to think we must be encouraging use of a "chemical cocktail." Critique by persons not attending may unwittingly make our job more difficult.

Nevertheless, we'll continue to offer options and hope you'll join us for a future program. North Carolina State University and North Carolina A&T State University commit themselves to positive action to secure equal opportunity regardless of race, color, religion, creed, national origin, sex, age, disability, or veteran's status. In addition, the two Universities welcome all persons without regard to sexual orientation. North Carolina State University, North Carolina A&T State University, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and local governments cooperating.

Persons with disabilities and persons with limited English proficiency may request accommodations to participate by contacting Sam Groce, County Extension Director at 919.542.8202 or or in person at the County Extension Office at least 15 days prior to the event.

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The Cooperative Extension way of "taking the fire out of fire ants"

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