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Making Fire Ants Easier to Live With: Fire Ant Education and Outreach

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 2007, the Alabama Fire Ant Management Program conducted several educational and research programs and activities designed to improve fire ant education and management in Alabama.

Fire Ants at the Fair. The fire ant display was staffed at all times. Various publications were handed out to the stakeholders. Here are some of the events where the fire ant display was used in 2007:

i) Chilton Regional Extension Center, Farm, Home, and Wildlife Expo, Clanton, August 2007; ii) Insectival, Oxbow Meadows Environmental Learning Center, Columbus, GA, July 2007; iii) Alabama National Fair, Montgomery, AL, October 2007; iv) Sunbelt AgExpo, Moultrie, GA, October 2007; v) Alabama Peanut Festival, Dothan, AL, November 2007; vi) AgRoundup, Auburn, AL, November 2007.

Members of the Fire Ant Management Team staffed the booth at the Alabama National Fair. Jimmy Jones and Rachel Dykes worked with Master Gardeners on the Peanut Festival each year. Co-leaders Graham and Bertagnolli staffed the booth at AgRoundup and Sunbelt AgExpo.

Hands on Fire Ant Training for Extension Agents. In the past 10 years, fire ant education efforts have focused on providing Extension Agents and other trainers with the information and training tools that they can use to teach others about fire ants and how to control them. This effort has succeeded to the extent that fire ant education has become an integral part of educational programs conducted by the Alabama Cooperative Extension System. If agents conduct an educational program on lawns, landscapes, cattle operations, child safety, or other situations where fire ants occur, they will routinely add information about fire ants. Fire ant training needs to be ongoing, to ensure that Extension agents are provided with the latest information about fire ants and fire ant management. Forty-one Extension Agents and 17 stakeholders (pest control operators, grounds maintenance personnel, etc.) were trained in April 2007. The one-day fire ant training was repeated at 5 locations, and also video-conferenced, to allow for participation of as many Extension agents as possible. Agents used this knowledge to answer day-to-day questions on fire ants from their clientele, and to conduct fire ant demonstrations and educational workshops.

Imported Fire Ant eXtension. The imported fire ant eXtension web portal was launched in early April 2007 (www.extension.org/fire+ants). This site contains the latest, best-of-the-best information, news, and FAQs about fire ants. This information is gathered from experts across the United States. Alabama has played a lead role in launching and maintaining this site. Extension agents, Extension specialists, and researchers from Alabama are participating in this project by providing, editing, and reviewing content, answering questions about fire ants, marketing the web site, or translating the site into Spanish.

You Have to See It to Believe It. Fire ant demonstrations allow Extension agents to show the general public how easy and effective fire ant bait applications can be. Fire ant educational programs, often accompanied by a local fire ant demonstration, help familiarize stakeholders with fire ant management practices. Presentations at Professional Meetings gain recognition for the Alabama Fire Ant Management Program at the regional and national level. Forty-two Herd seeders, used to apply fire ant bait, are available for use by Alabama stakeholders, courtesy of the Alabama Fire Ant Management Program and the Alabama Cooperative Extension System. Fire ant bait demonstrations are on-going in several locations in Alabama.

 

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.

Decreasing Human Health Risk

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

Email: flandkl@auburn.edu


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