Tim Chitwood

Monday Mail: Going to war against the ant invasion

America must declare war on these unwanted invaders from the South that have planted themselves upon our native soil.

And in our native soil, along the mown roadsides, across the open fields, piled against fence posts.

Fire ants: They're everywhere now, checkerboarding yards and pastures and farms.

You know about fire ants, unless you're so fresh from some northern clime you've never heard of them.

Unlikely, but anyway, if you step on a nest, they swarm up your leg 'til they find bare skin, clamp on with their mandibles and inject alkaloid venom from their butt stingers, leaving bumps that top out in white pustules.

Each colony hosts thousands of ants, an army that can mobilize in an instant, attacking en masse.

According to the Auburn University Department of Agriculture, "a queen fed by worker ants can lay up to 800 eggs per day. The average colony contains 100,000 to 500,000 workers. Queen ants can live seven years or more, while worker ants generally live about five weeks, although they can survive much longer."

They can kill just about anything that can't get away fast enough, like baby birds in ground nests. And they can take out a human, too, especially someone who's allergic to their venom.

And yet, while Americans freak out about Ebola and other things they're unlikely to catch, no one worries about being killed by ants.

Aunts in a zombie movie, maybe, but not insects.

The insects came here via cargo ships from South America to Mobile, Ala.

They so far have spread as far north as Virginia, and as far west as California.

And we must destroy them.

Not wanting to spread poison among pets and livestock, I long have sought natural solutions to fire ants, something besides pouring gasoline on an ant bed, tossing in a lit match and hollering "Woo hoo!"

That's what I did when I was a kid. But the climate was cooler then, so wildfire was less of a risk.

One natural way to kill fire ants is with diatomaceous earth.

According to the book "Tiny Game Hunting" by Hilary Dole Klein and Adrian Wenner, diatomaceous earth "is a mined mineral product that consists of the remains from fossilized one-celled diatoms that lived 30 million years ago. It kills insects mechanically, not chemically, because its sharp, silica edges puncture their soft, waxy covering. Death is by dehydration."

So if you're looking for a natural way to destroy fire ants, get you some fossilized critter dust, sprinkle it on the ant beds and tell me if it works.

I'm still weighing my options, now that gas is so cheap.

Tim Chitwood, tchitwood@ledger-enquirer.com, 706-571-8508.

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