Virginia Man Discovers Huge Colony of Invasive Imported Fire Ants

by Caitlin Berard
(Photo by Ebin Varghese via Getty Images)

As a lifelong resident of the Southern United States, Mike Schulte is no stranger to insects. Creepy crawlies of all shapes and sizes thrive in the warmth of the southern states, as the weather is rarely cold enough to kill eggs, larvae, or adults. But when he moved slightly further north to his new home in Virginia, there was one insect he was excited to be without – fire ants.

Despite their small size, fire ants, also known as stinging ants, red ants, and ginger ants, are particularly fearsome creatures. As anyone who’s ever accidentally treaded into a fire ant mound can attest, their stings are potent and surprisingly painful.

Just one sting is enough to cause discomfort for days. An attack by an entire swarm of fire ants can have positively unbearable results.

Yes, putting miles between himself and these venomous vermin was something to look forward to for Mike Schulte, in addition to the relative cool of Old Dominion. One day, however, as he was wandering through his blissfully fire-ant-free neighborhood in Prince George County, he encountered a horrifying sight. A seemingly innocent pile of dirt on the side of the road.

He recognized it as a fire ant hill instantly. And to make matters worse, he looked up the road and saw even more dotting the nearby grass. “I saw that one hill right here and I was looking at it and I said, ‘You got to be kidding me,'” Mike Schulte explained to CBS 6. “I said, ‘I got to tell somebody about this, you know?’ Because these things are very dangerous.”

Virginia Department of Agriculture Responds to Fire Ant Invasion

Mike Schulte wasn’t alone in his quest to spread the word about the invading fire ants in his area. The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services joined in, as they’re the agency responsible for stopping the spread of the invasive species.

According to Program Manager David Gianino, the imported fire ant arrived in the United States from its native South America through the movement of nursery soil. From there, they invaded the southeast, landing in Virginia in the late ’80s.

“Once we found out that it was here in Virginia, we started quickly trying to treat for eradication and those eradication efforts weren’t really successful,” said Gianino. “They were able to reproduce and spread.”

“Fire ants have been marching northward, just naturally,” he continued. “They do have mating flights in which the mound itself can produce enough queens where they need to get forced out and then they will go out into the environment and establish new mounds.”

Several Areas of Virginia Become Quarantine Zones

The VDACS is faced with a difficult challenge. While a mass spreading of pesticides could help quell the growth of the fire ant population, it could (and likely would) do serious damage to farmland and grazing animals in the area.

They eradicate colonies whenever possible, but oftentimes, ridding an area of fire ants entirely is impossible. When this happens, the area becomes a quarantine zone, with those inside warned against the dangers of the swarming insects.

“Be careful, be safe when you’re around them,” cautioned Gianino. “Because oftentimes, you won’t know if you’ll have either an allergic reaction or anaphylactic response unless something major happens.”