Local News

State Imports Flies To Help Export Fire Ants

Posted June 12, 2002

— If you do not have fire ants at your home now, you might soon. The stinging pests are spreading rapidly across the Triangle and the state.

To help stop them, the state has enlisted a tiny soldier from the ant's native homeland.

The imported fire ant found its way into the United States as a stow-away from Brazil. The painful pest has no natural enemies here, so researchers figure the best way to fight the spread of the ants is to import another insect from Brazil.

"What we needed was a natural predator, biological and natural, to slow down the fire ants' spread," said Rebecca Fergus of the N.C. Department of Agriculture.

Fergus and other researchers found Phorid flies attack fire ants, eventually killing them.

"It injects the larva into the neck of the fire ant, and as it grows and develops, it moves into the head of the fire ant, feeding on the fire ants' brains, and in the end, decapitating the fire ant," Fergus said.

The Department of Agriculture released 225 of the flies, each smaller than a gnat, at a rest stop along Interstate 40.

Workers dug up an ant mound, captured some ants, and introduced them to the flies.

"They're released into the original mounds. Then we come back in about 35 days to look for the next generation born," Fergus said.

If the process works as hoped, the flies will grow and multiply, killing more ants along the way.

"In the end, we hope to slow down the spread of the fire ants," Fergsu said. "We are definitely not going to eradicate the fire ants at all, but to slow them down would definitely be a good step in the right direction."

Other Southern states have introduced the flies, but this is the farthest north they have been tried. No one knows if they will survive here, but experts said it is worth a try because nothing else has stopped the ants' march.

North Carolina currently has 49 counties, including parts of Wake County, under a quarantine because of the fire ants, and the number is growing each year.

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