Hurricane Season Brings Fire Ant Trouble

When wet weather from an active hurricane season causes increased fire ant activity, homeowners and hurricane clean-up crews should be especially mindful of the risk of fire ant attacks this season.

“We all know that fire ants build up their mounds when the soil is saturated and attempt to move out of areas that are under water,” says Dr. Mark Deyrup, Ph.D., entomological researcher at the Archbold Biological Station in Lake Placid, Fla. “This means that fire ants are more prominent in wet conditions and more concentrated in non-flooded areas. When dense forest canopy is destroyed by a hurricane, it can temporarily provide an optimum habitat for fire ants.”

Following 2005’s record-breaking 28 named storms, homeowners are more aware than ever of the threat hurricanes may bring. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 34.6 million people currently reside in the coastal portion of the states stretching from North Carolina to Texas, the area most threatened by hurricanes. These homeowners may not know the danger of fire ants caused by this natural disaster.

One of the most flood-resistant species in the world, fire ants actually flourish in natural disaster conditions, such as those present in major hurricanes. As water rises, fire ants form a “survival ball,” with the queen safely protected inside, and will float until they hit dry ground, sometimes miles away from their original colony. Moreover, fire ants inject two or three times as much venom when “rafting” than at other times.

Treating fire ant mounds individually with drenches, mound injections, dusts, baits or fumigants during hurricane season will only temporarily eliminate the problem. Flood waters allow the fire ants to move quickly away from the treated mounds to new territory, and the short residual of these treatments does little to control the ants that move in days later.

“A broadcast treatment is the most effective way to treat for fire ants after flooding,” says Nate Royalty, Ph.D., entomologist with Bayer Environmental Science. “By applying a granular insecticide like TopChoicefire ant control over a wide area, the current infestation can be treated as well as prevent future outbreaks.”

Broadcast baits can offer significant control but dissolve when wet, rendering them useless. TopChoice doesn’t lose its effectiveness in water and does not need to be reapplied, so retreat costs are eliminated and homeowners can enjoy a fire ant-free yard for one full year. By acting as a resource during this stressful and critical time, lawn care operators can strengthen their customer relationships and ultimately their business.

“Homeowners and communities that are concerned about the increased fire ant threat during hurricane season need to be informed on the best methods for treatment and prevention,” says Royalty. “By ensuring that homeowners’ lawns have been treated effectively, one more hurricane season concern can be eliminated.”

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