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Good pest control professionals should view their titles literally. We believe in “pest control,” meaning that we control the populations of pests when they get into places where they don’t belong. Our job is not to exterminate every insect or rodent. If we did, the whole food chain would fall to pieces. That being said, there are some pests that are really hard to like. Right now, the word “mosquito” probably just flashed through your brain, and we understand that feeling. But today, we want to discuss another unpopular pest that is quite new to the Knoxville area. Get ready for an introduction to the fire ant.

The red imported fire ant came to the United States from South America in ships in the early 1900s. They have grown their populations since then and adapted to the cooler climate. They are verified in at least eleven states, now including Tennessee. These ants are extremely dangerous and hard to control. An average fire ant mound can have 200,000 occupants, and you can find dozens of colonies per acre in rural areas. The mounds will be noticeable because they have a large pile of dirt at their main entrance. In urban areas, this dirt pile could pretty easily be up to six inches across; in agricultural areas, they have been known to be up to two feet high. This knowledge leads us to lesson number one for those sharing a county with fire ants: Don’t stomp an ant mound! You never know what species of ant could come out, and you may regret the decision!

So, what makes red imported fire ants so much worse than other ants? Well, there is only one way to describe these colonies: militarized. A fire ant army is a war machine. If a person accidentally wanders into a fire ant mound, the workers will immediately begin swarming up to exposed skin. But, they won’t attack right away. They actually wait until a larger number of soldiers gain access to the prey. Then, they release a chemical as a signal, and all the ants attack at once to inflict the most damage.

Most people say they have been “bitten” by an ant, but serious ant encounters have nothing to do with bites. Some species of ants (though not all) are equipped with stingers, just like a wasp, and these stingers do the damage. However, fire ants are quite smart. While they are waiting for the attack signal, the ants use their powerful jaws to latch onto a hair or the skin of their victims. Then, when they begin to sting, they are very difficult to brush off and are more likely to be able to deliver multiple stings per ant.

In addition, fire ant stings are more dangerous than the stings of other ants. Most ants inject a type of acid when they sting, which can cause painful skin irritation. Fire ants inject a certain protein that is foreign to other creatures. The immediate result is a wicked-looking blister that often scars. However, some people (and other animals) are violently allergic to this protein. When you hear about fire-ant-related deaths, they are almost never associated simply with the painful stings. The worst danger is from these extreme allergic reactions, which can cause victims to go into shock and, in extreme cases, die.

This is a hard article to write and a hard article to read because we generally don’t like to make people frightened of pests (grossed out, maybe, but not frightened). However, red imported fire ants are a menace in East Tennessee, and they don’t belong here. Our native plants and animals are not equipped to withstand their aggressive attacks, and they are doing damage to our ecosystem.

With many pests, like odorous house ants, there are things we can recommend for homeowners to try if they want to spend time managing their own pest control to save money. We do not recommend that with red imported fire ants. If you suspect that you have fire ants near your house, either because you’ve received stings or because you’ve seen their large mounds, please give Russell’s a call or visit our contact page. We can do a free inspection to determine if fire ants really are a problem near you, and we have the equipment needed to treat for these pests safely.

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