By Tom Ewing
Red imported fire ants (RIFA) have recently been found in several areas of Southern California and sitings were first discovered in San Diego County almost a year ago. Thought to have been unknowingly transported to the area by landscaping materials that originated from infested areas, this aggressive pest is known to cause damage to structures, electrical equipment, gardens and landscaping. This species of fire ant has the most toxic venom of all species, resulting in a burning characteristic of the sting.
Red imported fire ants are small (1/8 to 1/4 inch long), reddish brown and can quickly produce many nests and colonize your yard. While this dangerous species of fire ants does not seem to have spread beyond a few isolated incidences in San Diego County, awareness can go a long way toward protecting your landscaping investment and the people living on your property. While aggressive actions are taken by the California Department of Forestry and Agriculture (CDFA) officials upon each siting, there is little that can be done to prevent red imported fire ants from building colonies on your property. However, once they have been discovered, immediate action can prevent their spread.
The first sign of fire ant infestation is the appearance of small mounds that resemble small gopher hole mounds. In contrast to the native southern fire and harvester ants which tend to build irregular nests with numerous entrances, the red imported fire ant typically builds its mounds near structures such as trees, yard plants, pipes and walls. Each mound can house thousands of ants, which can quickly swarm onto a person or object that disrupts their habitat.
CDFA has developed an extensive series of bait stations for detection throughout the county. If you suspect you have RIFA on your property, contact the California Department of Food and Agriculture Pest Hotline at 800-491-1899. They can recommend treatment methods to prevent further distribution of this pest.
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