“Fire ants are an easy scapegoat, and really you have to study the situation a little more closely to find where they really are a problem and where they do provide some benefits. I think ranchers have observed over the last couple of decades we have far fewer tick and chigger problems than we used to before.”
Bart Drees is an entomologist with Texas Agri-Life Extension.
“They’re the number one natural enemy in our environment that’s preying on all sorts of other arthropods, and there are consequences when you take them out of the system now.”
Dr. Drees does admit that for the majority of people, fire ants are an overwhelming pest.
“In Texas alone, the estimated impact to the Texas economy is 1.2 billion dollars a year.”
“They arrive without their compliment of natural enemies, the parasites, pathogens, and predators that keep them in check in their native habitat in South America, but they just overwhelm the system. ”
There are still areas across Texas that host unacceptably high levels of fire ant populations.
“There are dozens of natural enemies, biological control agents, in South America and we’ve begun to examine those and import and release and establish some of these.”
The organism that’s received the most press is a parasitic fly. Its larvae eats fire ants. Drees says natural enemies won’t eradicate the fire ant.
“What they do however, is during daylight hours when these flies are looking for ants to parasitize, the ants detect them and hide from them, so the flys actually suppress daytime foraging activity of fire ants, and that gives back time for native ant species to build up their colonies and combat fire ant populations.”
So farmers, ranchers, and homeowners, keep fighting the good fight. Help may be on the way. I’m Joe Brown, looking at Brazos Valley Agriculture, From The Ground Up.