Virus Could Control Fire Ant Problem

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When folks want to take out fire ants they call out the professionals, like BreakAway Pest Control.

Jacob Ollinger is the owner of BreakAway Pest Control and said his company uses a number of effective arsenals against fire ants.

"Bait is something that the ants will come and eat on and gives a more immediate knock down," Ollinger said.

However, researchers for the U.S. Department of Agriculture are working on a more natural approach to killing the stinging pests. Texas A&M professor and entomologist, Bradleigh Vinson said entomology colleagues in Florida are in the beginning stages of cultivating a virus that attacks fire ants colonies.

"Just like any disease in humans, a few of them get it, they pass it along and of course being social, everybody gets it in the colony pretty quickly,"

Vinson is describing the nature of a virus that attacks fire ant colonies. He said because the discovery of the viruses is so new, researchers are not sure what it is about the viruses that causes the ants to die. What they do know, is that stress speeds up the process.

"They seem to do fine with the virus out in the field. When they bring these ants in or under stress like droughts or something like that," Vinson said. "They die off in a month or two."

Ant viruses and diseases have been around for years but the number of colonies they infect has been increasing. For instance, Vinson said the ant disease, Thelohania has infected about 60 percent of local ant colonies. Colony numbers are down, but not just because of the disease.

"It could due you know, we've had some droughts too and fire ants like lots of moisture," Vinson said.

With the ant viruses and diseases occurring naturally, Vinson and Ollinger said they could offer a more "green" way to treat fire ant problems.

"What I'd like to see in a bait with the virus or with Thelohania or whatever we put out there that would instead of using pesticides really take out the fire ants," Vinson said.

Whatever is developed through research, a lot of people will be happy as long as it puts out the fire of those aggressive ants.