Sunday, April 19, 2009

New fiends...

You read right, fiends, not friends.

Yes, we have a spectacularly early and long spring here in Central Texas. And we have mild winters that allow us to grow many plants as perennials. There are many things to love about our climate.

But what else do we have?

Yep - you guessed it...FIRE ANTS.

The dreaded feisty, fearsome fire ants ... known to kill calves and colts and other large animals probably a million times their own size. (I'm guessing at that math -- work with me here!)

But seriously. They are a menace.

I gave up on the pleasures of walking barefoot in the grass a quarter of a century ago when we moved to Texas (I was just a baby then - ha!). My family and I cannot enjoy summer picnics in the grass on a blanket -- we have to sit on the driveway.

And every where you walk, you have to look at your feet, ever watchful for those dreaded monsters.

According to Wikipedia, a typical fire ant colony produces large mounds in open areas and feeds mostly on young plants, seeds and crickets. Fire ants often attack small animals and can kill them. Unlike other ants, which bite and then spray acid on the wound, fire ants only bite to get a grip and then sting and inject a toxic venom called Solenopsin. A painful sting, it produces a sensation similar to what one feels when being burned by fire, hence the name.

Fire ants nest in the soil, often near moist areas, such as river banks, pond edges and watered lawns. Usually the nest is not visible as it will be build under objects like timber, logs, rocks, etc. If there is no cover for nesting, they will construct dome-shaped mounds that can reach heights of more than 15 inches high.

Colonies are founded by small groups of queens or single queens. Even if only ONE queen survives, within a month, the colony can expand to thousands of individuals. (She's REALLY busy.)
With our heavy rains this week (for which I eternally grateful - thank you , thank you, thank you), the fire ants came up out of the woodwork to make their domes. The edges of every lawn along my dog-walking route is filled with mounds where they came up out of the ground in the deluge.

Sadly, they are pretty indestructible. There are some baits that help control them, and some insects that researchers are working on to develop predators, but as of now, they have no natural predators.

Pity.