Fire ants have invaded Middle Tennessee - WALB.com, South Georgia News, Weather, Sports

Fire ants have invaded Middle Tennessee

NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) -

Spring is the season for pests, and one in particular is creating a lot of concern. Fire ants have made their way into Tennessee, putting livestock and people at risk.

"About three-fourths of our state is infested," said Jason Oliver, associate professor of entomology at Tennessee State University.

The unwelcome insect's bite burns like a match, hence the name fire ants.

"They bite and curve their abdomen and sting you at the same time," Oliver said.

And with temperatures rising above 50 degrees, fire ants will start stirring out of their mounds. About a million of them can occupy a single three-foot mound.

Experts say their venom can bring on hives or in certain cases death to people and animals.

"They do kill baby birds and lizards, so they do have a lot of impacts," Oliver said. "Newborn calves have been blinded as well."

Beyond their bites, fire ants can cause other hazards.

"They'll tunnel under roads and cause road bed collapse. They like electrical systems, so sometimes you'll get electrical shorts in air conditioners," Oliver said.

As for how they got to Tennessee, a lot of times fire ants travel in the soil of plants that move across the country from nursery to nursery.

TSU researchers have been testing some chemicals on nursery rootballs, trying to wipe out the ants, and they found one that will get rid of them for at least six months.

They are also releasing tiny decapitating flies that can help control fire ants.

Still, there are trillions of fire ants in the United States and no known repellent, so this may be the beginning of an ongoing battle.

So far, the largest local colonies of fire ants have been found in Franklin and the Hickory Hollow area.

Surprisingly, fire ants can be used in positive ways to keep pests away from sugar cane and cotton fields.

Copyright 2014 WSMV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.

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