Fire ants: Hampton Roads is Placed in Agricultural Quarantine

Hampton Roads is under a temporary quarantine over the movement of nursery stock, sod and soil due to a significant infestationof imported fire ants.

The quarantine was announced Wednesday by the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, which treated 642 sites in Hampton Roads for fire ants in the last six months of 2008. The agency treated an average of 33 sites in Hampton Roads between 1989 and 2007. Department officials called the spike in fire ants a natural spread caused by an explosion in reproduction.

"We cannot eradicate them here," said Larry Nichols, program manager for the department's office of Plant and Pest Services. "That's the reason for the quarantine. "While sod, nursery stock and soil are listed as regulated articles, the quarantine is not limited to these items.

"We don't really know how they got in the area, (Actually they have been marching northward up the eastern seaboard over the last few decades. Jh) but once they started they began moving throughout," Nichols said. The quarantine covers James City County, York County, Hampton, Newport News, Chesapeake, Norfolk, Portsmouth, Suffolk, Virginia Beach and Williamsburg.

Letters were sent to local nurseries, trucking companies, city managers and county administrators. Les Parks, nursery manager of Smithfield Gardens in Suffolk, received his letter this week. "We weren't given much time to prepare or any guidelines on how to become certified," Parks said. "They should have done both at the same time. "Smithfield Gardens, like many local nurseries, receives products from other states. During peak season, which is April and May, they receive shipments of plants from six or seven tractortrailer trucks a week. During the spring, they usually receive four or five truckloads of soil.Parks said they have never encountered fire ants. Next week, the store will begin carrying Extinguish Plus, an insect bait that kills fire ants as well as their eggs. Nichols said the department would no longer treat fire ant colonies in Hampton Roads but will attempt to stem the tide outside of the quarantine in places like Gloucester, Isle of Wight and Matthews counties. (What this means to the pest management industry is that within the quarantine area that VDACS will no longer treat fire ants, free or otherwise. Plan to have some Advion on hand. It works quite well. Study the label carefully since there are some treatment issues that you may find surprising. Jh)

Nichols said the outbreak is almost completely local."We're not getting complaints from other parts of the state," he said. Fire ants first showed up in Hampton Roads in 1989, and now the species is growing in leaps and bounds, said Gina Goodwyn, a regional supervisor for the Department of
Agriculture and Consumer Services.

"It's not natural to this area. It's from South America," Goodwyn said. "So there are no natural predators."Nichols said the fire ants might not hail from Hampton Roads, but farmers, gardeners and homeowners shouldn't expect them to go away any time soon.

A proposal to make the quarantine permanent will be made before the Board of Agriculture and Consumer Services on Aug. 4."The main thing is if this becomes permanent, we want to work with businesses to make sure they can continue to do business," said Nichols, adding that extra steps might be required because of the quarantine. Pest control companies need special certification to treat fire ant colonies, (We are able to treat fire ants with our existing 7a certification. Jh) and there are plenty of over-the-counter
treatments that should be available at home and garden supply stores. (They're not expected to compete well with Advion. Jh) For more information or to report fire ant problems, call Gina Goodwyn at 757-562-
6637.

Fire ant primer
What are red imported fire ants?
An introduced species notorious for its aggressive behavior
Where can fire ant mounds be found?
In warm, sunny locations such as landscape beds, lawns, around trees and
shrubs, along sidewalk cracks and against buildings

How dangerous are fire ants?

Fire ants can cause serious health problems for humans due to their sting.
They clamp onto their targets with powerful jaws and sting repeatedly. Each
sting injects a dose of venom that causes a burning sensation.

How large is a colony?

Colonies vary in size, but a mature, 3-year-old colony typically
contains 250,000 workers, which are sterile females, and hundreds
of reproductive males and potentially reproductive females.

Source: Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services
Staff writer Kimball Payne contributed to this report.
Copyright © 2009, Newport News, Va., Daily Press

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