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Fire Ants are Emerging Nuisance for Virginians

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"This is a horrid, obnoxious pest that we do not want in Virginia," Miller said. "Whats worse, to an untrained eye the red imported fire ants and their mounds are difficult to distinguish from other ant species."

RIFAs are believed to have first arrived in the United States in the 1930s. According to Schultz, they may have been introduced from their native habitat in Argentina and Brazil from the soil used as ballast in cargo ships. Although humans are most commonly to blame for the spread of RIFAs, the insects have extended their range to nearby territories during annual mating flights and by moving into a new region in search of food or a better nest site. They have also rafted to new locations during floods.

Since the 1930s, fire ants have spread to infest large parts of the southern United States, including Puerto Rico and as far west as Texas and parts of California. The ants, which have a high reproduction rate, experienced dramatic growth during the housing boom of the 1950s, likely from sod and nursery plants being transported from production sites to areas under development for housing or commercial use.

"Today, the red imported fire ants are still extending their range from the south to the north," said Schultz, who is also director of the Hampton Roads Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Virginia Beach. "Even though sod and nursery plants are treated and must meet strict guidelines to be transported from areas with fire ant infestations, you can never be 100 percent sure that the material is free from the tiny insects."

The ants have been increasing their numbers ever since they were first spotted in the commonwealth. Although mostly concentrated in the Tidewater area and nearby areas in Eastern Virginia, RIFAs have recently been observed at mall construction sites in Richmond and Roanoke. Fire ants caught the publics attention in 2006 when a 30-year-old landscape worker in Virginia Beac
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