Fire ant warning issued for Delaware

Fire ants (Photo: Virginia Department of Agriculture)
Fire ants (Photo: Virginia Department of Agriculture)

DOVER, DELAWARE (6/9/2015) Delaware residents are being warned to look out for dangerous fire ants.

State authorities say fire ants were discovered in a shipment of palm trees imported from Florida.

The red imported fire ants were detected during a routine check at a Sussex County business by a Delaware Department of Agriculture inspection team. They were eradicated and do not pose a threat, officials said.

“Buyers of tropical nursery stock – such as palm trees – should carefully inspect their plants for small, aggressive red stinging ants,” said Jeff Brothers, Nursery Inspection Supervisor for the Department of Agriculture. “We need these to be reported quickly and promptly to keep them from spreading or staying in Delaware over the winter.”

Anyone in Delaware finding a suspicious ant should call 302-698-4500 or 800-282-8685.

A federal quarantine is in place for fire ants in Alabama, Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and Puerto Rico . The U.S. Department of Agriculture only allows shipments of nursery stock from quarantined areas if they have an inspection certificate.

Faith Kuehn, DDA’s plant industries administrator, said that anyone who travels in those states should not bring plants or plant material back into Delaware unless it has a state inspection certificate. Nurseries or other vendors should check each shipment received.

“We are urging caution on all fronts because of the ability of fire ants to spread quickly and the danger they pose,” Kuehn said. “We have had good luck so far, but that depends on prompt reporting and inspections.”

Imported fire ants pose a hazard to both human and animal health and to agriculture, according to the Agriculture Department. Young animals and young trees are both susceptible, while nests in fields can interfere with cultivation and harvesting. When their nests are disturbed, they can be very aggressive, crawling up vertical surfaces and biting and stinging in a swarm.

Red imported fire ants are 3-6 mm long. Mounds can be 18 inches high and 3 feet across, and have no visible external opening, unlike ant hills. Stings are very painful, and venom from a fire ant attack can cause a variety of symptoms in humans, including nausea, dizziness and allergic reactions including anaphylactic shock. More information on red imported fire ants can be found at