Bit­ing fire ant in­va­sion shifts in North Carolina

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Local - BY MARK PRICE [email protected]­lot­teob­ Mark Price: 704-358-5245, @markprice_obs

The plague of in­va­sive, ag­gres­sive fire ants in North Carolina has shifted far­ther north and west, prompt­ing the state to add three more coun­ties to the of­fi­cial “fire ant quar­an­tine” area.

David­son, Or­ange and Vance coun­ties now are part of a quar­an­tine zone that re­stricts mov­ing such things as plants and dirt to non­in­fested coun­ties to the north and west, ac­cord­ing to a Wed­nes­day press re­lease from the N.C. Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture.

North Carolina, Ten­nessee, Arkansas and Ok­la­homa con­tinue to be part of the north­ern range of the na­tion’s growing fire ant in­fes­ta­tion, mak­ing con­tain­ment crit­i­cal, ac­cord­ing to U.S. Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture data.

The lat­est north­ward shift of the quar­an­tine zone means 75 of North Carolina’s 100 coun­ties are con­sid­ered home to a pest know for swarm­ing and sting­ing, says the depart­ment.

Dur­ing Hur­ri­cane Florence, fire ants also be­came known for float­ing, af­ter state of­fi­cials con­firmed colonies were form­ing “rafts” to es­cape the flood­ing, re­ported the Ob­server.

“Two as­pects of red im­ported fire ant in­fes­ta­tions are par­tic­u­larly an­noy­ing,” says the N.C. State Co­op­er­a­tive Ex­ten­sion.

“The un­sightly mounds formed in lawns and yards, and the painful stings re­ceived when mounds are dis­turbed. Within 24 hours af­ter a per­son is stung, a pus­tule­like sore of­ten forms at each sting site.”

Those pus­tules itch, like a case of poi­son ivy, and “may rup­ture the skin, lead­ing to sec­ondary in­fec­tion and scar­ring,” the ex­ten­sion ser­vice warns. In some cases, bite vic­tims have al­ler­gic re­ac­tions se­ri­ous enough to re­quire med­i­cal at­ten­tion, state of­fi­cials said in a re­lease.

The quar­an­tine for Da- vid­son, Or­ange and Vance coun­ties will go into ef­fect Jan. 1, at which point per­mits will be re­quired for any­one trans­port­ing a long list of agri­cul­tur­al­re­lated prod­ucts to coun­ties con­sid­ered free of in­fes­ta­tion, said a state press re­lease.

In­cluded in the list: Plants, sod, soil, hay, straw, logs, and any used farm­ing or land­scap­ing equip­ment, ac­cord­ing to the re­lease.

Items moved il­le­gally to non­in­fested coun­ties could be de­stroyed by the state to thwart the spread of fire ants, said Phil Wil­son, of the N.C. agri­cul­tural depart­ment’s plant in­dus­try di­vi­sion.

“Fire ants can be harm­ful to hu­mans and live­stock,” Wil­son said in a press re­lease. “It is crit­i­cal we con­tinue proac­tive ef­forts to slow down fire ant move­ment.”

State ex­ten­sion ser­vice bi­ol­o­gists say the ants are na­tive to south­ern Brazil. They cur­rently in­habit parts of 11 states in the south­ern U.S., say state of­fi­cials.

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