Next on the Farmer's Plague Menu: Red Imported Fire Ants

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Red Imported Fire Ants have been found in Missouri. This is bad news for farmers. - UNIVERSITY OF MISSOURI
  • University of Missouri
  • Red Imported Fire Ants have been found in Missouri. This is bad news for farmers.
Just when you started to think we'd survived the worst of the summer, along comes a new threat. First it was intense heat, then withering drought, now it's fire ants. Great. I guess seven days of raining blood comes later this month then.

Because of the aforementioned heat and drought, Missouri's farmers have had to buy hay from outside the state in order to feed their animals. Recently, a farmer in Ozark County found an active hive of red imported fire ants (RIFA) in a hay bale shipped from Florida. RIFA are a huge source of pain and trouble in the southern states, and there's an active quarantine in place to keep them from spreading further north.

Except now they're here?

Maybe, maybe not. The University of Missouri Extension reports that this particular hive was quickly identified and treated, and seems to have been snuffed out before it could spread. Which is good news, because a typical RIFA hive can contain 300,000 of the little red devils. They're highly aggressive, and inject an alkaloid-based venom with every sting -- and they sting often and repeatedly when disturbed. Their sting creates extremely painful, fluid-filled pustules on most people; a small percentage of the human population can experience anaphylactic shock. On the farming side, RIFA stings can adversely affect young animals, and the mounds they build are often one-foot high, which can negatively affect farm equipment in the field.

Oh, and they spread by swarming -- that sounds like fun doesn't it?
You won't sleep now, will you?
  • You won't sleep now, will you?

The UM Extension has a great deal of info available here that will help identify the risks of infestation, how to inspect hay bales for stowaway RIFA, and what to do if you discover too late that they're on your property.

One of the key elements of prevention is buying hay that's been certified RIFA-free -- but there's more. Buyers must also visually inspect the hay bales, because RIFA can colonize a bale that's sitting in a field after it's been inspected. The experts advise that you ask questions of the hay seller, and look for infestation on the bottom of the bale. This can be done by placing a dab of peanut butter or hot dog on top of the bale and waiting an hour. If ants aren't swarming the bait, you're in the clear.

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