Skip to comments.Storms' floods killed fire ants
Posted on 05/13/2006 10:32:04 AM PDT by Rastus
Finally, a silver lining in all of that salt water that flooded parts of Louisiana during hurricanes Katrina and Rita: A lot of pesky fire ants died.
The invasive little bugs, which bite with a real sting and often push good ants out of an area, apparently dont mix well with salt water, according to findings by LSU Agriculture Center entomologist and Professor Linda Hooper-Bui and her researchers.
Fire ants arrived in Mobile, Ala., from their native South America in the early 1900s and have spread across the southern United States. They are found in all 64 Louisiana parishes. Researchers have found more than 1,500 fire ant mounds per acre in places.
In late August, Hurricane Katrina pushed salt water over levees and collapsed floodwalls, inundating portions of the New Orleans area for days. Hurricane Rita, a month later, swamped southwest Louisiana and again flooded some portions of the southeastern part of the state.
Fire ants are normally very adaptive to the environment. When it floods in their native ranges in South America, they will create a floating ball in hopes some will survive, Hooper-Bui said. Essentially, some sacrifice their lives so their fellow ants can float on top of their carcasses.
In checking populations after the storms, researchers from the Red Ant Laboratory at LSU found a dearth of fire ant mounds in flooded areas. We just didnt expect to see no fire ants, Hooper-Bui said. We thought it might be saltwater.
Some experimentation found the ball survival reaction to flooding doesnt seem to work when the water is salty.
Hooper-Bui and her fellow researchers also see opportunity in last falls crisis.
There is now a window of opportunity to, so to speak, kick those fire ants while they are down. The Fire Ant Laboratory is planning to treat some public lands in the New Orleans area and they are also seeking neighborhood groups to organize community-wide treatment attacks. Similar efforts have been successful in Baton Rouge in areas such as Spanish Town.
Undergraduate researchers Andy Fulks said he has found that in concentrations of 3 percent or greater salt in the water (typical of seawater), the fire ant ball reaction doesnt seem to work. The ants will ball, but not for long. They slowly sink and drown. Lower concentrations of salt act slower, Fulks said.
Thats pretty dramatic, Hooper-Bui said as she watched a ball of fire ants floating in a bucket of salty water quickly disintegrate, sink and drown. In a freshwater bucket next to it, the ball was still working.
While taking part in the research project, Hooper-Bui developed an allergy to ants and wears a mask when working with them. Ants communicate with chemicals their bodies emit, called pheromones. The odor put out by the ants can cause her to break out in a rash or have breathing difficulties.
I think what we are smelling is (pheromones saying) alarm there is something wrong, Hooper-Bui said.
She and Fulks are still trying to figure out why the ant balls dont work in saltwater. It could be a chemical reaction, such as the salt drawing moisture from their bodies, or it could be a change in the water surface tension that stops the ants from floating. If it is surface tension, then it would be exactly the opposite of what one would think, Hooper-Bui said.
Post-doctoral researcher Beverly Wiltz said she has not found ants in New Orleans neighborhoods like Lakeview, where water sat for days, apparently drowning the ants. St. Bernard Parish, really hard-hit by Katrinas waters, appears to be pretty close to being fire ant-free, she said.
For the past several years, she has researched ants in New Orleans City Park. Before Katrina, she found about 20 ant species there. Now, she is finding only about 10 types. Fire ant populations are very low in the park compared to pre-Katrina, she said.
As the lab group prepares an upcoming assault on fire ants, research associate Lee Womack is working to recruit groups for the community-wide treatment efforts.
In a community-wide effort, Hooper-Bui said residents can treat the ants twice a year in the spring and again in the fall rather than six to eight times a year. That means one-third less pesticide can be used and the cost of treatment can be shaved to just 10 percent of what individuals might spend collectively.
The market has produced several baited pesticides that work with the aggressive nature of fire ants. The baits are formulated in a combination of products that fire ants find attractive. They will often collect and come in contact with the bait before native or other good ants can get to it, she said.
The group has one fire-ant concern: As people move back into New Orleans, they could reinfest their area with plants, sod or soil that contain some fire ants. They should check to make sure the products are labeled fire ant-free or treat them, Hooper-Bui said.
For more information, e-mail the lab at email@example.com.
On the Internet AgCenter Fire Ant Information http://www.lsuagcenter.com/fireants
Fire ants are evil incarnate. You can't kill them dead enough for me.
At my rural property, I like to pour a cup or two of kerosene on their mounds, let it soak in for a minute, and strike a match.
I love the smell of roasted fire ants in the morning. Smells like victory.
Oh the Hum-ANT-ity!!!
I think you'd find a little detergent in water is most effective on liberal balls.
The fireants did not survive?
Now wait for some wacky environazis to "reintroduce" them.
I always grin when hearing that Ortho radio commercial where the announcer a bit too cheerily talks about killing the fire ants. "It kills the queen, and then they all die! All of 'em, all dead! Yippee!" (slightly paraphrased...)
Kick fire ant butt!
Are your pet fire ants missing?
'Tis an ill wind that blows nobody good.
I don't know "Suck on my salty Fire Ant balls" just doesn't have the same ring to it
Glad we don't have bullet ant problems.
I just got home from La., and there is no shortage of 'skeeters.
At my home, I use the once a year product. It's not cheap but it works.
I'm rather allergic to their bites, and preventing them is a high priority for me.
It's too bad you are allergic to fire ants. You have this great big fire and you can't make roasted marhsmallows or smores with it.
A busy sidewalk in front of my parents old house in S.Fla. used to have a dead lizard or two on it every day from being nailed by bicycles. The fire ants would feast these lizzardss and strip them down to skeltons in about 1/2 a day.
Salty water make things more buoyant - You would think the balls would float better.
Maybe the stupid ball trick works for short period of time? Those evil beasts never had such a long ball ride.
Die FAnts Die!
Exactly, the fire ants will be endangered species
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