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Fire Ants are Emerging Nuisance for Virginians

Red imported fire ants (RIFAs), which have caused trouble in Florida and Texas for decades, are now advancing in Virginia. Colonies of the tiny, highly aggressive insects have been observed in the commonwealth since 1989 and, in recent years, have caught the attention of Virginia Tech scientists who are trying to learn more about the increasing number of fire ant infestations.

"Virginia Cooperative Extension has begun a research and outreach program to train Extension agents and industry officials in southeastern Virginia about this emerging problem," said Dini Miller, Virginia Cooperative Extension specialist on urban pest management and associate professor of entomology in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Miller and Peter Schultz, Extension specialist of horticulture crop insects and entomology professor, are leading Extensions efforts to research RIFAs and educate Virginians about this issue.

The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) currently manages and treats all fire ant infestations in the commonwealth. Most homeowners and landscape workers do not have the training or resources needed to stamp out a fire ant infestation. This often requires a multi-faceted approach using a bait and low-toxicity granular formation, techniques not commonly used for similar pests in urban areas. Burning a fire ant mound, for example, will not work and may even cause the colony to scatter and multiply. RIFAs are the one of the most aggressive insects in North America. When a colony of these ants perceives a disturbance to the nest or a food source, they respond quickly by rushing forward and grasping onto the enemy with barbed mandibles. While still biting, these ants repeatedly sting their enemy, injecting toxic venom and leaving a small, acutely painful wound. A day or two later, small, blister-like pustules will develop on the victim, which may lead to secondary infection or permanent scarring without proper ca
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