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Alabama Fire Ant Management Program

 

fire antSince they were first discovered in Mobile, AL in the early 1900’s imported fire ants have become the scourge of the southland. Fire ants affect nearly everyone in Alabama and other parts of southern United States. They can adversely affect our health, our agriculture, our wildlife, and our environment. The sting of fire ants is painful and can cause allergic reactions and even death of livestock and humans. Most fire ants in Alabama live in highly territorial single-queen colonies which may produce on average about 40 mounds per acre, however, in some portions of Alabama fire ants live in multiple-queen colonies which are more tolerant of each other and may produce in excess of 200 or even 300 mounds per acre. It has been estimated that fire ants cost Alabamians $175,000,000 per year. Fire ant management is frequently crisis oriented, relying on the use of harsh chemical insecticides. The goal of this project is to improve fire ant education and management in Alabama.

In 2005 and 2006, the Alabama Fire Ant Management Program conducted several educational and research programs and activities designed to improve fire ant education and management in Alabama. These include exhibit, workshops and demonstrations conducted for a wide range of audiences including master gardeners, cattlemen, garden club members, civic clubs, youth, and other Extension agents.

Exhibit at the Talladega SuperSpeedway, Alabama National Fair, the Southeastern Ag Expo. An exhibit was prepared for the Talladega SuperSpeedway, Alabama National Fair, the Southeastern Ag Expo and the Peanut Festival. The exhibit included informational posters, live fire ants, live decapitating flies, and plaster casts of fire ant tunnel systems. Fire ant coloring books and fact sheets on fire ant management were distributed. Our experience in past years has shown that most of the children were fascinated, rather than repelled by the live fire ants. This gave us a chance to explain the basics of fire ant biology to the children, and both the basics of fire ant biology and management to their parents. The booth was staffed for the duration of each event by participants of the Alabama Fire Ant Management Project, Extension agents, or Master Gardeners. We made life safer for over 200,000 campers that attended the races at Talladega Superspeedway. In Fall 2005, approximately 10,000-20,000 people visited the speedway exhibit, 8,000-10,000 people visited the fair exhibit, 5,000 visited Ag Expo exhibit, and 5,000-7,000 visited the exhibit at the Peanut Festival. In Summer 2006, a field day at the Chilton Regional Research and Extension Center drew an interested crowd. In Fall 2006, approximately 8,000-10,000 people visited the fair exhibit, 5,000 visited Ag Expo exhibit, and 5,000-7,000 visited the exhibit at the Peanut Festival.

Demonstrations and evaluation of formulated baits for fire ant control. In 2006, twelve Extension agents established a total of 22 bait-based fire ant management demonstrations in 13 Alabama counties. Several commercially available baits were evaluated by extension agents against fire ants in various ecosystems in Alabama including cattle pastures and hayfields, farms, and recreational lands. Baits evaluated included insecticide-based baits such as Amdro Pro® and Siege Pro® (active ingredient of both is hydramethylnon) and insect growth regulator-based baits such as Extinguish® (s-methoprene) and Esteem® (pyriproxyfen). Extension agents feature fire ant management in their programming in other ways. Magazine articles and presentations at professional meetings help spread the word about fire ant management.

Fire ant eXtension. The Alabama Cooperative Extension System is the lead institution in a grant proposal to develop a fire ant eXtension module. Eight members of the eXtension work team attended the fire ant conference, and participated in eXtension work days. One hundred frequently asked questions about fire ants have been answered and are posted on the eXtension FAQ site (faq.extension.org). Formal launch of Imported Fire Ant eXtension is scheduled for April 2007.

Fire ant biological control. This program involves releasing and monitoring the establishment and spread of phorid flies (Diptera: Phoridae), which are introduced biological control agent of fire ants.

Other fire ant education activities and publications. The Alabama Fire Ant Management Program hosted the 2006 Imported Fire Ant Conference in Mobile, Alabama, in March. Researchers and educators from the Southeast, Texas, New Mexico, California, Taiwan, China, and Australia gathered to share research results and exchange ideas on how to manage fire ants.

Three fire ant slide sets were updated and sent to each county Extension office and each regional Extension agent who helps educate people about fire ant management. The publication, 2006 Fire Ant Control Products for Alabama Homeowners, helps Extension agents and homeowners choose the right fire ant control products for each situation. A regional publication, Broadcast Baits for Fire Ant Management, was published in late 2005. Members of the program helped revise another regional publication, Managing Imported Fire Ants in Urban Areas, published in August 2006. These and other relevant publications are available on the web page (www.aces.edu/dept/fireants)

The Alabama Fire Ant Management Program is helping to meet the National IPM Roadmap goals by reducing potential human health and environmental risks from fire ants and fire ant control in residential and public areas and by improving cost benefit ratio of fire ant management. As a rule, people spend too much money, too much time, and use too many pesticides trying to control fire ants. Environmentally safe fire ant products are currently available for use. However, they are often applied improperly. A sustainable approach to fire ant management can make fire ants easier to live with, while reducing social, economic, and environmental costs.

Improving the Cost/Benefit Ratio of IPM

For More Information, Contact:
Dr. Kathy Flanders
Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology, Auburn University
301 Funchess Hall, Auburn, AL 36849
Phone: (334) 844-6393

Dr. Lawrence “Fudd” Graham
Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology, Auburn University
301 Funchess Hall, Auburn, AL 36849
Phone: (334) 844-2563

Email: flandkl@auburn.edu


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