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Fire ants discovered in tropical trees sold to Sussex Co. nursery

Credit: Johnny N. Dell,
Red imported fire ant (Solenopsis invicta)

The Department of Agriculture is warning Sussex County businesses about a recently detected palm tree shipment from Florida with some unwelcome guests – invasive fire ants.

They’re urging any buyers of tropical nursery stock to inspect it thoroughly even if it didn’t originate from one of the fifteen states and territories under a federal fire ant quarantine.

While Ag Department spokesman Daniel Shortridge says the ants found have been eradicated and do not pose a threat – there are no answers yet on how they were missed.

“That is what we’re trying to find out and we’re working with our federal counterparts obviously as we do on all these issues.," he said. "The business in this case did have the proper certificate for bringing these plants up into Delaware so that’s one of the things we’re trying to figure out.”     

The invasive red fire ants are more aggressive than their native counterparts and named for their sting which includes a toxic alkaloid venom that produces a burning sensation.

Their stings can be deadly if untreated, but the majority of fatalities are caused by allergic reactions which can be easily addressed.

A lack of predators could cause their numbers to grow quickly if left unchecked.