LITTLE ROCK — The U.S. Department of Agriculture has expanded an Imported Fire Ant quarantine in Arkansas to include seven new counties, bringing the quarantined area in the state to 50 counties.
The quarantine, issued through USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, confirms the presence of the invasive species in Cross, Franklin, Johnson, Lee, Monroe, St. Francis and Woodruff counties. The new quarantine area essentially includes the southern two-thirds of Arkansas.
Kelly Loftin, extension entomologist for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, said that the ants have been introduced northward over the decades through the movement of plant nursery items, grass sod, soil and baled hay. But that doesn’t mean business owners in these industries must shut down.
“If you’re running a nursery or sod farm, it’s just a matter of entering a compliance agreement with the Arkansas State Plant Board, agreeing to certain procedures that will help enforce the quarantine,” Loftin said. “It means you have to follow certain, very specific treatment programs to make sure that product is free of fire ants.”
Loftin said the red imported fire ant was first confirmed in Arkansas in Union County in 1958, having first crossed the southern border of the United States in the 1930s. Previous efforts to eradicate them in Arkansas have failed.
“That was tried decades ago, and it was unsuccessful,” Loftin said. “And that was at a time when you had products with a lot of residual presence — you also had products that weren’t as restricted, in terms of where they were used. So, if it didn’t work then, when the products were longer lasting, it sure won’t work now.”
Paul Shell, head of the Arkansas State Plant Board’s plant inspection and quarantine efforts, said the insect’s progress northward is primarily limited by cold seasonal temperatures.
“They are suppressed by sustained cold weather,” Shell said. “There’s a northern limit to where they’re going to be perennial.”
Shell said the fire ants will often overwinter near asphalt sidewalks or in parking lots, where the artificial surfaces help to radiate heat into the ground, helping the ants to survive longer.
Within the quarantine area, homeowners who encounter the red imported fire ants on their property should refer to the Cooperative Extension Service publication FSA7036, “Fire Ant Control in Two Easy Steps,” available here.
If an individual outside of the quarantined area in Arkansas suspects an infestation of the imported fire ants, Loftin said he or she should contact their local Cooperative Extension Service agent about collecting sample insects for identification. A directory of county agents can be found here.