06/30/08 — Frisky fire ants bedevil local residents

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Frisky fire ants bedevil local residents

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on June 30, 2008 1:46 PM

If you happen to be wearing sandals, a stroll through Herman Park could be a pain.

Just ask Marion Collins.

"Every once in a while, you'll get bit," the 53-year-old said, looking down at an ant hill. "And it's no fun."

Summer in Wayne County means fire ants -- and plenty of them.

And they don't discriminate, working out of sidewalks, tennis courts and park lawns.

Here are some ways to fight back against fire ants.

* Mound drenches are insecticides diluted with water that work as contact insecticides. Drenches are best used when there is a high risk of human contact with fire ants and ants must be eliminated immediately. Best control usually results in spring and fall when temperatures are between and 85 degrees. Apply 1 gallon per 6 inches of mound diameter. For dry powders, follow label directions and apply evenly over the mound.

* Broadcast treatment is the distribution of insecticidal bait over a large infested area containing many fire ant colonies. Broadcast applications can be made in the spring and fall. Individual mounds that show up in the summer can be treated with insecticide drench or ant bait.

* Baits are insecticides that have been mixed with an attractant. Worker ants carry particles of the bait back to the mound and feed them to the queen. Baits are fairly slow acting but are easier to apply than mound drenches and are more effective in the long run. Active ingredients in baits are rapidly degraded by high temperatures, humidity, and intense sunlight. Baits are best applied in the evening. Sprinkle baits around the mound, not on the mound itself. And remember, moisture tends to make baits less appealing to ants, so avoid spreading them after rain or dew.

* Instead of using an insecticide, you could use boiling water. Apply 3 gallons of boiling water per mound.

Information provided by Wayne County Cooperative Extension Agent Jessica Hyatt.

So local residents and officials are taking aim at the insects known for leaving painful welts on those unfortunate enough to come across them.

Goldsboro City Manager Joe Huffman said city crews go after ant hills in parks and other commonly used green spaces.

But there is a catch.

"No matter what you do, it seems like you can never get rid of all the little devils," he said.

Julie Brock agrees.

The Goldsboro resident has been finding ants in "weird" places -- like in her car and on her Labrador retriever, Jake.

"He was biting and scratching himself the last time we were (at Berkeley Park), so I ran my fingers across him to check for fleas," she said. "Sure enough, there were ants all over him."

Mark Thomas worries about his two daughters, 5-year-old Kayla and 3-year-old Erica.

"They are getting to that age where they love the slide and the sandbox," he said. "It just seems like there are a lot more ants in the yard this year, and if it hurts when they bite me, just think about them."

So before they picked their "play spot" at Herman Park Wednesday, he scanned the area.

And at home, he always has a bottle of ant killer handy.

Ms. Brock said until recently, she has never had a need for insecticide.

But for the last few years, citronella candles and bug sprays have been a mainstay on her back porch.

"When it's hot and dry, you get ants. When it's hot and wet, you get mosquitoes," she said. "You just can't win in the summer."

Huffman said the city still maintains its standard mosquito prevention effort -- a fleet of trucks that spray wooded areas and other hot spots, and members of the Inspections Department with tablets used in standing water to stymie the insects' birth.

And officials at the Wayne County Cooperative Extension office have pamphlets for residents who need some help controlling their ant problems.

But as Huffman said, getting rid of them completely is an uphill battle.