BATON ROUGE – "The red imported fire ant is an equal opportunity pest that bothers everybody," said Dr. Bart Dreese, an entomologist with Texas Cooperative Extension, during a conference here this week aimed at dealing with the pests.
Finding ways to control the mean-spirited arthropods brought Dreese and more than 150 other research, extension and industry people to Baton Rouge Mar. 22-23 for a red imported fire ant conference.
The conference has been held annually since 1988, according to conference organizer Dr. Dale Pollet, an entomologist with the LSU AgCenter.
"This meeting rotates annually among the states that have fire ant problems," Pollet said. "We think we had a good program here this year."
Dreese praised the diversity of the program, explaining that managing fire ants includes chemical, biological, physiological and genetic controls.
The meeting "features what’s going on with fire ants throughout the Southeast," Dreese said. "We’re making advances on many fronts."
The Texas expert mentioned a new blend of chemicals plus growth regulators that provides faster control through chemical activity and longer control because growth regulators keep mounds of ants from proliferating as rapidly as they normally do.
Although scientists don’t expect to be able to eradicate the pests, they hope to reduce the cost of control by stretching the interval between treatments.
In addition to various chemical and growth regulators to control the pests, researchers also are exploring how to fight fire ants by introducing natural diseases and parasites from their original home in South America.
Roberto Pereira, a research entomologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service in Gainesville, Fla., is coordinating an area-wide fire ant suppression program with demonstration sites in Florida, Texas, Oklahoma, Mississippi and South Carolina.
Pereira said each state has two sites of about 300 acres each. One site is for experimentation, and the other is a control site.
"We’re looking at baits, decapitating flies and thelohania, which causes disease in fire ants," Pereira said.
He said the program includes monitoring native ants and other arthropods to be sure the biological controls affect only fire ants "to see how our actions are affecting arthropods in general."
The researchers are treating some fire ant mounds with chemicals only and other areas with the decapitating flies and thelohania.
Preliminary results indicate "we can control fire ants, and baits do a fairly good job," Pereira said. He added that researchers are getting even better control with a combination of biological controls and chemicals, especially for the longer term.
"Once control has reached adequate levels, we don’t need as many applications, because biologic agents give better control," he said.
Researchers have calculated that red imported fire ants cost $5.5 billion a year in the United States for equipment and supplies used to fight them and medical costs associated with their attacks on humans.
Other topics on the program included ant behavior, biological and ecological considerations and other eradication efforts. A variety of poster presentations and papers on the latest research also were presented.
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