1. Release and spread natural enemies for fire ants - decapitating flies
and Thelohania fire ant disease.
2. Area wide reduction of fire ant populations by 80% using natural enemies.
3. Save at least $5 billion a year in cost of fire ant control and damage for agricultural producers, businesses, homeowners, government and military.
4. Reduce reliance on repeated applications of insecticide for fire ant control.
5. Restore ecological balance in the natural environment.
How they got here
Imported fire ants first came to the United States in the1930s. Seventy years later there are five times more ants here in the States than in their native land of South America. Natural enemies of fire ants keep in check most of the ants in South America. But the fire ants that came to the States escaped their natural enemies and thrived in the southern landscape.
A crisis brews
Until now, the only way to control fire ants has been to use insecticides. And the only way to maintain control has been to apply insecticides two to four times a year at a cost of at least $10 an acre for each treatment. Treating all infested land would cost $6 billion to $12 billion a year. Because of the expense and hazard of insecticide treatments, most landowners do nothing. Uncontrolled, fire ants have become serious pests. They damage crops, livestock, and electronics and sting people. By killing wildlife and even endangered species, they upset the ecological balance of nature. Fire ant losses total almost $7 billion a year in urban and agricultural areas.
Why natural enemies?
The only reasonable solution for fire ants is classical biological control - release natural enemies to control the ants. Natural enemies of fire ants have been found in South America and have proven safe and effective. These natural enemies can be released to provide biological control of fire ants.
Two effective natural enemies of fire ants have been developed as biological control agents: Thelohania fire ant disease and decapitating flies.
Natural enemies provide control wherever ants are. They affect only fire ants, not other species. They also can improve and extend the effectiveness of insecticide treatments.
Plots of land were treated with insecticide bait only. These treatments reduced fire ant populations by about 90 percent. But within several months fire ants reinvaded from surrounding areas.
Other plots were treated with insecticide bait, and natural enemies were released. The insecticide bait again reduced populations by about 90 percent, but fire ants did not reinvade. Even after two years, fire ant populations were still suppressed 96 to 100 percent by using natural enemies. As fire ant populations decreased, native fauna returned.
Releasing natural enemies
Natural enemies are being established at widely separated locations throughout the South. These natural enemies will reproduce and spread on their own. Decapitating flies spread at the rate of about 10 miles a year. Fire ant disease spreads much more slowly.
Fire ant biological control will reduce populations without multiple insecticide applications. It can restore the natural ecological balance that was lost when fire ants invaded and killed native wildlife.
The bottom line
Everyone will benefit: agricultural and livestock producers, schools, businesses, military, and especially the natural environment.
Area wide suppression using biological control of fire ants is expected to save more than $5 billion a year in fire ant damage.