LITTLE ROCK, Ark (KTHV) -- The problem of fire ants coming into Arkansas isn't just your imagination. Experts say their population is growing into this area of the nation and could be worse before it gets better.
According to the USDA, until recently, red imported fire ants occupied more than 300 million acres in 12 southern states and Puerto Rico. Now they've become established in California and New Mexico.
It's time for picnics and pools...and walks in the park. We hear horror stories about ant attacks on people and even pets.
But for anyone who's had those fire ants near their property-they know the problem is much more severe. And-unfortunately-the professionals say there's little to stop the invasion.
Keith Robinson is one of only a few certified entomologists in the state. He is a manager at Legacy Termite and Pest Control.
The day we meet up with him, he is making his rounds to the mounds and following up on the places he'd treated just days prior.
"This particular commercial account had an ant mound up inside the building! And we've treated it and we're just checking to make sure the activity's been stopped."
Stopping them is his mission. And if their spreading trend continues--he and other pest control professionals will have verrrrry busy months ahead. Robinson says fire ants in Arkansas is a growing problem.
"A lot of people don't realize that they came from the port city of Mobile, in 1930. Came in through shipments from Central and South America into the port and ever since then they've been distributing and depositing themselves all over. All over the south...Sometimes we used to think that they wouldn't go above a certain line, above a certain state. There's a certain temperature level they wouldn't cross. But we're finding them up all the way into California..."
There are several types of fire ants but the "Red Imported Fire Ant" is the biggest troublemaker.
Robinson says, "They're the mounding ants that typically come in sod and plants. We can get them from nurseries, we can get them from our relatives down in areas that have more population of fire ants and so then we bring them into the area, we plant them and then they mound around the house."
That mound is the tell-tale sign of the problem; unfortunately it's just the tip of the iceburg says this expert.
While digging, Robinson says, "When we look at a fire ant mound the very top surface that you see represents only about 25% of the mound itself. It's much larger than you actually see! So when you see one mounding around the ground that's pretty large--think of that as 75% more of that ant structure underneath!"
Fire ants have a fascination with electrical conduits, and try to find shade as often possible. Similar to humans: they're active this time of year--but they still want to be comfortable!
They're found around electrical boxes, utility boxes, air conditioning units..."All those seem to be the biggest areas that they like as well as bordering sidewalks.They like structural lines so they like to be next to the concrete, sidewalks and driveways too." says Robinson.
300,000 ants in the average colony. Billions of dollars worth of structural damage each year. 25,000 severe allergic reactions annually... It may be easy to spray or stomp them away, but this expert says that's simply not enough.
"I would say the last few years we've had more of a problem with fire ants in Little Rock. I'm seeing more of an increase every year." An increase in business that ISN'T what we want to hear.
Researchers are trying to fight back with Phorid flies--creating Zombie ants! Watch the attached video for more on that.
You can also find a wealth of knowledge about fire ants and ways to protect your family from the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture Extension Service.