Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Imported Fire Ant and Invasive Ant Conference in OKC: Ant Epidemic Spreading like Fire

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Imported Fire Ant and Invasive Ant Conference in OKC: Ant Epidemic Spreading like Fire

Article excerpt

Oklahoma City is virtually crawling with researchers, regulatory officials and industry stakeholders this week as the state Department of Agriculture hosts the annual Imported Fire Ant and Invasive Ant Conference.

Unlike the ants they study, however, these experts don't mind being disturbed.

"It's important to help people understand what's going on," said state Agriculture Department spokeswoman Jeannetta Cooper. "We can't eradicate them; they're here to stay. We can't keep them from spreading. ... We're just trying to slow the spread, and our best tool is education."

The conference has attracted experts from as far away as Taiwan and Australia, addressing such topics as ant genetics, colony structure and pathogens in the ant-decapitating phorid fly. Even trained odor-detection dogs are being used to sniff out the chemicals the ants emit, according to officials from the Queensland Department of Primary Industries & Fisheries.

Oklahoma has a growing fire ant problem, but it's not as large as other states. At least not yet. The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently added 12 more Oklahoma counties to its federal quarantine list, bringing the state's total to 21, largely in the southeast. Other states under quarantine are Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Texas, as well as the entire states of Florida and Louisiana.

The quarantine means that Oklahoma's five inspectors have to make sure businesses involved in the transportation of soil, plants, soil- moving heavy equipment and similar industries are regularly inspected for compliance. Oklahoma's plant nursery industry alone is the state's fifth-largest agriculture producer, officials said.

The ants are thought to have been brought to the United States in the early 1900s via cargo ships from South America using soil as ballast. Imported fire ants are as industrious as any other native ant, but much more aggressive. …

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