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A New Weapon to Stop One of the World’s Top 100 Invasive Species

Posted by Sandra Avant, Public Affairs Specialist, Agricultural Research Service in Research and Science
Jul 27, 2017
Red imported fire ants
Red imported fire ants have infested more than 300 million acres since arriving in the United States in the 1930s.

Summer’s here and many of us are ready to celebrate our nation’s independence! It’s time to put away your closed-toe shoes, slip into a pair of sandals or flip flops and get ready for some outdoor fun. But be careful where you step! Red imported fire ants could be nesting in the ground, waiting to attack when disturbed.

These invasive pests deliver quick, painful stings loaded with venom that can be life threatening to some people and deadly to small animals.

Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists have been battling red imported fire ants for decades. This pest has become well established in the United States since its arrival in the 1930s. Today, the red imported fire ant infests about 300 million U.S. acres and is among the world’s top 100 invasive species.

In addition to being a menace, these ants cost an estimated $6 billion annually in control and damage repair, according to Steven Valles, an entomologist with ARS.

Valles and scientists with USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service recently developed a red imported fire ant test kit for use at truck inspection stations to help keep ants from spreading throughout southeastern states. All trucks carrying hay, nursery stock and soil-moving equipment are inspected for ants when leaving a quarantined area and heading to a location not under quarantine.

“Identifying ants found at inspection stations takes hours or even days,” Valles says. “The new test fixes that problem.” It’s portable, easy to use, identifies red imported fire ants in 10 minutes and requires no special training.

The new test is one of many tools ARS scientists have developed to help stop red imported fire ants from spreading.

ARS entomologist Steven Valles using a new test for fire ants
ARS entomologist Steven Valles and APHIS colleagues developed a new test that quickly identifies red imported fire ants.
Category/Topic: Research and Science

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Luis Gonzales
Jul 01, 2017

Dear Sirs,
What is the tool been used for inspecting and identifying this ant species?

Horace James
Jul 04, 2017

Need to know how to get rid of the fire ants

Ben Weaver
Jul 05, 2017

@Luis Gonzales - The tool is an antibody-based lateral flow immunoassay that detects a protein specific to the red imported fire ant. The test kit contains a plastic tube, a pestle to mix in ants and a test strip that detects red imported fire ant venom. If the strip has two lines, the test is positive. If it has one line, it is negative. The kit is being used primarily by the USDA-Animal Plant and Health Inspection Service at truck inspection stations.

Ben Weaver
Jul 05, 2017

@Horace James - USDA Agricultural Research Service scientists are working constantly to find effective and self-sustaining natural methods to control fire ants.  Many natural controls have been released, including decapitating phorid flies, viruses, and other fire ant-specific pathogens.  These efforts are designed to impact fire ants on a large scale.  On a smaller scale, like your yard, there are a number of commercial products available.  For more specific recommendations, we encourage you to contact the county extension agent in your state.