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Don’t Let Fire Ants Ruin Your Outdoor Plans!

Posted by Mina Chung, Writer-Editor, USDA Agricultural Research Service in Animals Research and Science
Jul 29, 2021
Red imported fire ants
Red imported fire ants pack a painful sting that carries a potentially deadly venom. (Photo credit: USDA-Agricultural Research Service)

Warmer weather in many parts of the country means more opportunities for outdoor activities. Whether it’s a picnic, backyard barbecue, or even an intimate wedding ceremony, no one wants to feel the painful sting of the red imported fire ant.

The red imported fire ant is a formidable pest. It carries a powerful venom in its painful sting, which can be life-threatening to some humans and small animals. Since being introduced in the United States in the 1930s, it now infests around 300 million acres. The annual cost of control and damage to agricultural, recreational, urban and industrial activities as well as to wildlife exceeds $6 billion.

Given the high cost and danger the pest poses, it is vital that any program designed to control the red imported fire ant be given a fighting chance to succeed. This is where USDA scientists really stepped up. Researchers from the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) used a protein from the fire ant’s own venom to develop a highly effective field test that can tell fire ants apart from other ant species in as little as 10 minutes.

ARS entomologist Steve Valles in Gainesville, Florida, developed new antibodies that are used in a new portable test kit for quick identification. Valles did this important work in collaboration with former APHIS laboratory director Anne-Marie Callcott and ARS entomologist Charles Strong. In addition to being quick and effective, the test kit does not require special training to use.

This field kit is particularly valuable at ports of entry and truck inspection stations to let authorities quickly check for fire ants. Cargo infested with fire ants may be subject to quarantine when leaving certain areas of the country, such as the southeastern states. The quarantine is much more effective when implemented with this accurate and easy-to-use field kit.

Category/Topic: Animals Research and Science

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Randi Clark-Migliacio
May 05, 2019

I would like to know how to eliminate these pest's! The Red ants are forming colonies in my back wooded pasture and I want to know what product or recommended procedure to follow to eliminate them.

Ben Weaver
May 09, 2019

@Randi Clark-Migliacio - thank you for your inquiry. ARS does not make recommendations on consumer products to use for the eradication of fire ants, however you can reach out to your local extension office and they can best assist you with how to control red ants in and around your home.

Robert K. Leonard
May 06, 2019

First time visitor to you site, does this "field kit" have a version for individual home use? Or is it just to identify them for quarantine control proposes?

Ben Weaver
May 09, 2019

@Robert K. Leonard - thank you for your comment. Currently, there is not a consumer version of the field kit for home use. If you are having issues with fire ants in your home or community, please consult with your local extension office for guidance on how to control them.

Brandon Autry
May 08, 2019

I have a yard full of these and many other types of biting ants. What is the safest way to get them out of my yard. I have chickens, dogs, ducks , a pet pig and grandchildren to worry about getting bit.

Ben Weaver
May 09, 2019

@Brandon Autry - thank you for your inquiry. ARS recommends contacting your local extension office for the best assistance in controlling fire ants around your home.

Jun 06, 2019

I just found out that they are bitters too the fire ants i have little red dots all over my ankles .

Cuero bags
Jul 18, 2019

They can literally ruin your home furniture. Beware of them before its too late.

Jul 25, 2020

I have these in my yard. How to get rid of them I have a cat who always go there and play. I Always have to worry about My cat get bitten.

Ben Weaver
Jul 28, 2020

@Bini - thank you for your comment. There are many capable options for controlling fire ants. You may want to reach out to your local extension office to assist with deciding how best to control red ants in and around your home.