South Korean Town Turns To Texas A&M Professor to Fend Off Fire Ants

More and more, non-native species are taking advantage of an interconnected globe to find homes in new places.

By Michael MarksJuly 6, 2018 12:46 pm|

Texans who have known the wrath of fire ants are brutally aware that they’re no laughing matter. Anyone who’s been stung by one probably wouldn’t wish it on their own worst enemy, and they certainly wouldn’t wish any place unsullied by their presence to become infested with him.

Unfortunately, this is exactly what’s happened in South Korea. Fire ants were recently found in the port city of Busan, and since they hadn’t previously breached Korean shores, officials there were in need of some expert advice on critter management. They turned to Texas A&M University, where Ed Vargo is a professor of entomology.

“[Fire ants] were first introduced into the port of Mobile, Alabama from their native area in South America,” Vargo says. “They probably came in on [a] ship ballast that was unloaded in the port of Mobile, and then from there they spread throughout the Southeastern U.S. and spread westward into Texas.” They’ve likely been in the state since the 1950s.

It’s safe to assume that fire ants have not ended their global expansion. In the last 12 years, they’ve been introduced into Australia, Taiwan and parts of China. Aware of this trend, Vargo was pleased when the South Koreans reached out for help.

“I know in other places, even California and Australia, they tried to solve the problem on their own and sort of keep everything under wraps for a while.” Vargo says. “And then it got out of control to the point where they have not been able to deal with it. So I think the Koreans are doing the right thing.”

Vargo says it’s important to be aware of the most likely places to find fire ants, so that the proper methods of control can be applied. These involve chemical control in the form of baited traps and treating nests directly with a liquid or granular insecticide.

Vargos is optimistic about South Korea’s prospects for dealing with this problem, but warns against the pitfalls of standard American treatments to fend off fire ants.

“The problem with treating…in your yard is that you can get rid of the colonies in your yard, but then your neighbors all have them around,” Vargo says.

Written by Josue Moreno.