Thursday, August 11, 2016
In the realm of pest management, there are many potential issues which can arise and wreak havoc upon lawns and gardens in any climate. Knowing what these issues are, how to deal with them, and what sorts of precautions to undertake in preventing them from happening in the first place is very important when caring for a landscape. High on the list of pests in desperate need of management is fire ants, among the most invasive insects of them all. These pests are the bane of many a gardener's existence, and the reasons why, plus some solutions to the problem, will be detailed in the next several paragraphs.
Fire ants nest in such moist soils as river banks, pond shores, watered lawns, and highway shoulders. Nests usually aren't visible, as they will be built under timber, logs, rocks, or bricks. Ants form underground nests, where mating takes place. Fire ant colonies generally produce large, dome-shaped mounds in such open areas as fields, parks, and lawns, feeding mostly on young plants and seeds. They will often attack and kill small animals by stinging from the abdomen and injecting toxic alkaloid venom. Fire ants are very tolerant to extreme weather conditions. They do not hibernate, but can survive in temperatures as low as 16 degrees Farenheit. In hot conditions, they can build nests deep within water tables. Among the many issues caused down the line by these ant mounds include the deadening of grass and the killing off of their root systems, leaving bare soils vulnerable to erosion and diseases.
This problem can notoriously manifest itself health-wise. Fire Ants sting multiple times, sometimes as a group effort(as in, more than one ant is in on the action). A small, but still noticeable number of the population will have allergic reactions to Fire Ant bites. Allergic reactions come in many shapes and sizes, such as swelling, blistering, scabbing, burning, itching, difficulty with breathing, rapid heart rate, chest pains, nausea, dizziness, and shock. If it comes down to calling 9-11, be very sure to have at the ready such information as the person's age, weight, and condition, the type of insect, and the time of the bite.
My interest in this pest management issue stems from my own personal experiences with fire ants. Part of why the lawn at my place is the mess that it's become over the past several years is due in part to the building of fire ant mounds and the death of the grass areas and root systems underneath the mounds. In the past few months, we have had to apply fertilizer and lime to the soils and spread around some grass patch seed over several of the bare areas of the lawn. Still a ways to go before things are orderly once again, but things are already looking much better than they did before.
The principles of 'Integrated Pest Management' can be useful assets in combating the invasion of the fire ants. They can be applied as follows:
1. Produce Healthy Plants that Resist Pests—Select healthy plants, use the strongest, highest grade fertilizers available, use certified seeding, check soil pH values regularly, and give plants proper lighting and shading.
2. Identify the Problem—Spend time and resources investigating the problem in order to come to the right conclusion. It is not prudent to go after what turns out to be an environmental issue the way one would pursue a pest issue, or vice versa.
3. Expect Some Pests & Tolerate Some Damage—Don't aim to destroy all the fire ant colonies, lest you also risk irreparably damaging your plants and soils. Set a threshold for pests and damage.
4. Use Pesticides as a Last Resort—Before taking up pesticide usage, first exhaust every possible avenue for plant treatment. Only use when a problem is otherwise unavoidable.
Several measures are presently being used to combat fire ants, including the deployment of fire ant bait(Examples include Amdro Pro, Advion, and Spectracide) and insecticides. Mounds can also be drenched in toxic liquids, which can include various insecticides, boiling water, kerosene, and lighter fluid. Planting of Sundews and Venus Flytraps, as well as selective deployments of Phorid Flies, would also be an innovative(yet probably pricey) solution to the fire ant problem.
In conclusion, out of all the pest issues of today, fire ants constitute the dominating pest management issues that need to be dealt with. They can cause much damage to lawns and gardens, not to mention the many health hazards posed by them. All the troubles Fire Ants cause can easily be solved if you have enough of an understanding of the insects and how to use various combative methods, whether they be in the form of pesticides or other, more organic means. Knowing all of this could literally mean the difference between life and death, so tread carefully.
1. Wikipedia—The Free Encyclopedia: Fire Ants https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fire_ant
2. Do Your Own Pest Control—Top 10 Things You Should Know about Fire Ants http://doyourownpestcontrol.com/pest_control/questions_and_answers/top_10_things_you_should_know_about_fire_ants.html
3. Orkin—Fire Ants http://www.orkin.com/ants/fire-ant/
4. Texas A&M AgriLife Extension—The Latest & Greatest on Fire Ant Products http://fireant.tamu.edu/files/2013/05/2013-Fire-Ant-Bait-Misc-Control-Products-5-30-13.pdf
5. University of Florida Extension Office—Red Imported Fire Ants http://entnemdept.ufl.edu/creatures/urban/ants/red_imported_fire_ant.htm
6. MedLine Plus—Trusted Health Information for You: Fire Ants https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/002843.htm
7. USDA National Agricultural Library and Invasive Species Information Center—Red Imported Fire Ant(Solenopsis Invicta) https://www.invasivespeciesinfo.gov/animals/rifa.shtml
8. University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources—Red Imported Fire Ant Management Guidelines http://ipm.ucanr.edu/PMG/PESTNOTES/pn7487.html
9. Ant Ark—Fire Ants Species Solenopsis Invicta http://antark.net/ant-species/fire-ant-solenopsis-invicta/
10. Fire Ant Information http://www.fireant.net/
11. Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum—Red Imported Fire Ants http://www.desertmuseum.org/invaders/invaders_fireant.php