WATCH LIVE

Researchers Try to Squash Fire Ant Population 

Catherine Pegram

Some pesky ants are doing more than just ruining a few summer picnics.Local bug experts say fire ants are a real problem in parts of Maine.So they’re working on a way to squash the growing population, naturally.Despite common sense, researchers at the University of Maine are disturbing a fire ants nest in Orono, even at the risk of getting of getting stung.”It’s a sharp, burning pain. They inject a venom when they sting and that venom causes a burning sensation.”Entomologist Ellie Groden says in recent years more Mainers have felt the pain of fire ants, which came over from Europe a century ago.”Their kids get stung, their pets get stung, we get calls that their dogs won’t go out anymore because they get stung by these ants. But we are also concerned about the impacts these are having on native species.”Groden says that’s why her team is trying to fight the fire ants that are easily spread by people. “They like to nest inside potted plants. They like to nest underneath stones, in logs. People inadvertently move these materials when the ants are in them to new sites and then they move out of that material and establish in the landscape.”Research assistant Tamara Levitsky says, “Once they spread, it’s very difficult because currently we don’t anything – there’s no silver bullet right now. There’s nothing that’s effective at getting rid of these ants that you can find anywhere.”Something that does seem to work is a naturally occurring fungus that usually kills the ants in late summer.Groden says, “We’re trying to see if we introduce this fungus earlier in the season at higher levels, whether or not we can get the ants to spread it into the population earlier in the summer and cause a lot of mortality before their populations are able to build up over the season.” Groden says the fungus doesn’t hurt humans and the effect on other insects seems to be short-lived. But she says it could one day be the best way to cool the flame of fire ants.Reports of European fire ants are now coming in as far north as Nova Scotia.The researchers say if you believe you have fire ants, contact your local cooperative extension for some advice on how to tackle them. Go on-line to www.extension.umaine.edu for a list of phone numbers.