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Beware of the Red Imported Fire Ant

By Eugenia Jones

McCreary Countians need to keep an eye out for Red Imported Fire Ants, a non-native species that will aggressively defend their nests and sting if disturbed.  The stings are painful, often producing whitish pustules that can leave scars. The stings are an even greater concern for those who are allergic to insect stings and can be harmful to young livestock and wildlife.

The aggressive ants have recently been reported in McCreary County.  Although finding the dark, reddish-brown fire ants in Kentucky is rare and all known instances of the ants in McCreary County have been dealt with thanks to a local citizen who alerted the extension agency, McCreary County Extension Agent Tracie Goodman still extends a word of caution.

“The Office of the State Entomologist wants to know about sightings of fire ant nests so that they can be eliminated before those nests have a chance to produce additional nests,” Goodman stated.  “We want to prevent them from becoming established in southern Kentucky.  If you are a McCreary County resident, please report any sightings to Tracie Goodman, McCreary County Agriculture Extension Agent by calling 606-376-2524 or emailing<mailtotracie>    If you are located in another county, you are encouraged to reach out to your local UK Cooperative Extension Service for follow-up.”

According to Kentucky State Entomologist Joe Collins and University of Kentucky Entomology Specialist Ric Bessin, many other ant species are often misidentified as “fire ants” in Kentucky.  The red imported fire ant makes a raised soil mound and the nests tend to be in a spot where they get nearly full sun.  The mounds typically have a freshly tilled appearance with fluffy soil.

Red Imported Fire Ants (RIFA) originated in South America and were first discovered in the U.S. in the 1930s or ‘40s.  Typically, they are found in southern states from Texas to Florida.  The ants were first documented in California in 1984.

RIFAs often nest in soil near building foundations or landscaping.  The mounded nests can also be found in logs, stumps, yards, etc and may measure as wide as thirty-six inches across.  RIFAs will defend their nests if disturbed by “boiling” up out of the next and stinging.  The ants often relocate their nests if disturbed, and they are capable of surviving flooding waters.  The ants create serious problems if they enter a home.

In addition to the fire ant’s painful sting, quarantines of agricultural items will become necessary if fire ants become established in Kentucky.  Quarantines will impact movement of agricultural products such as potting soil, potted plants, mulch, trees, shrubs, etc. as fire ants often travel to new areas via these types of products. 

Additional Credits to:  National Pest Management Association, Northwest Exterminating, Center for Invasive Species Research

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