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Fire ants are emerging nuisance for Virginians

cape worker in Virginia Beach died after a fire ant attack. Although reports of human deaths are rare, Miller explained that people who are allergic to bee stings might also have severe reactions to fire ant stings.

In Virginia, fire ants have only been found in urban areas and are not currently an issue for the agricultural industry. In other states, however, RIFAs pose a threat to both crops and livestock. They feed on almost any plant or animal material, alive or dead, and are known to damage more than 50 cultivated plants such as corn, sorghum, and soybeans by feeding on germinating seeds. The fire ants can also damage developing fruit and flower buds on tomatoes and other plants. "They also pose a problem for young or debilitated livestock," Miller added. "A calf may not have the strength or mobility to escape an attack by ant workers, especially if it is disabled in some way."

Although a significant agricultural, economic, and safety problem, Miller and Schultz emphasized that a fire ant infestation is not the end of the world.

"Homeowners and landscape workers in Florida and Texas have been dealing with this issue for decades now," Schultz said. "Virginians need to be more careful and be aware of their surroundings when outdoors. If you know that there are fire ants in your area, you must be cautious when setting up for a picnic or mowing your lawn. What the fire ants really bring is a lifestyle change."


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Contact: Michael Sutphin
msutphin@vt.edu
540-231-6975
Virginia Tech
24-May-2007


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