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Fire ants found in Sussex County palm tree shipment

Courtesy of National Pesticide Information Center

Two dozen red imported fire ants were found in a shipment of palm trees that arrived at a Sussex County nursery, and the state’s department of agriculture is working to exterminate the danger.




State agriculture officials are treating a whole shipment of more than 20 large palm trees from Florida with insecticide, after they found fire ants in just one plant.


Stephen Hauss, the cooperative agricultural pest survey coordinator for the Delaware Department of Agriculture, said when fire ants bite, they sting. 


“Fire ants are known to be pretty aggressive,” Hauss said.


So the department cautiously checks plant shipments for them.


“We probe around in the plants, trying to get them to start coming out,” Hauss said. “We also use a pretty simple tactic. We use crushed up cookies in a little vile that we place around the plants, leave them there, and if everyone’s ever had a picnic, if there’s food around, ants are gonna come.”


If they find any, they spray a liquid insecticide to kill them. A week after that treatment, they use a bait insecticide that looks like food to get rid of any remaining ants. 


According to the Department of Agriculture, a federal quarantine is in place for several states, including Alabama, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Virginia. Delaware is not included.


In quarantined states, the U.S. Department of Agriculture only allows shipments of nursery stock with a certificate of inspection.


Delaware Plant Industries Administrator Faith Kuehn said Delawareans who travel to those states should not bring plants back to Delaware without a state inspection certificate.


"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 keeping the red imported fire ant from becoming established in Delaware, but that depends on prompt reporting and inspections."


The last time fire ants were found in a shipment in the First State was two years ago.  


Delaware’s Department of Agriculture says anyone who finds a suspicious ant should call DDA’s Plant Industries Section at 302-698-4500 or 800-282-8685.

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