first_img Volume XXVIII Number 1 Page 21 One Sunday afternoon, a “Discovery Channel” program about dangerous insects had a segment on imported fire ants. My daughter, still scratching from the fire ant stings she’d gotten a few days earlier, was very interested.The “Discovery Channel” and real life came together for me the following Tuesday. I got a call from a mother whose 2-year-old daughter was stung at least 20 times by what she thought were fire ants.The little girl had a severe reaction to the stings. The quick response of EMTs and emergency room doctors probably saved the little girl’s life.The doctors attending her needed to know the ant species that stung her, so they could identify the toxins and antigens in the ant venom. They wanted to try to prevent another severe reaction.That’s where I came in. The mother asked me to identify the ants.Ant identificationI knew just about enough to identify big ants and little ones, red ants and black ones, carpenter ants and fire ants. But I collected some from the nest and sent them to University of Georgia Extension Service entomologists.The ants that stung the little girl weren’t aggressive like fire ants. And the sting marks didn’t look like fire ant stings.And sure enough, they weren’t fire ants. They were “thief ants.” They’re in the same genus but are a different species.Ant identification isn’t easy, because there are so many kinds. In a recent survey, entomologists in the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences identified at least 85 species of ground-dwelling ants. That doesn’t include the ones that live in homes or trees (like carpenter ants).Thief ants aren’t high on the list of ants to worry about. UGA Extension entomologist Dan Suiter, who specializes in ants and other home insect pests, says there aren’t many in Georgia. He hardly ever sees them.The big three in GeorgiaFor most people, only three ant species are worth fussing over.Fire ants, of course, get all of the attention. Most of the insecticides marketed for ant control are for fire ants. A great many products can effectively kill them. But you have to be persistent, because even if you get them all, more will come.Argentine ants (“sugar ants”) can come from a long way off to your kitchen. Suiter says he measured one Argentine ant trail 350 feet long. So your ants may be coming from your neighbor’s yard or your neighbor’s neighbor’s.The best news about these ants is that they don’t sting or bite. Or if they do, it’s more like a little pinch than a fire ant’s poison injection.The worst news is that they’re hard to control. You won’t find a nest. They live in moist landscape mulch. Their population peaks in September, and when the weather turns cold, they move in with you. Indoors, they live behind wallboards and other hard-to-reach spaces.Suiter says a fire-ant product with trade name “Over-n-Out,” used on the mulch around your house, controls Argentine ants, too. It can help prevent their building up a big fall population.Carpenter ants are mostly a nuisance, Suiter says. These big ants can cause some damage to wood. But when you see them in your house, you’re most likely to be relieved that they aren’t termites.Virtually any over-the-counter ant-killer will kill carpenter ants. You can actually eliminate them, because the colonies grow very slowly.The trick is that you have to find them. They feed mostly at night. If you can find them feeding, follow them with a flashlight. They’ll likely lead you straight to the tree where they’re nesting in a hole. Pouring a gallon of Malathion solution into the tree hole will get them. By Mike Isbell University of Georgialast_img

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