Invasive fire ants continue their march across Virginia
As a young boy in Connecticut, Alvin Cajigas played with harmless ants. When he was 11 and living in Puerto Rico, he came across a mound of dirt a few inches tall. He knocked the top off with a finger.
“Hundreds of ants, or thousands of ants, came swarming out,” recalled Cajigas, now in his early 50s and living in Chesterfield County.
For several seconds, Cajigas was fascinated by the rushing insects. “Then they were all over my hand and stinging me all over the place.” Each sting felt like a hot needle. “It was not pleasant.”
Cajigas’ father treated the stings with the soothing juice of a native plant. As for Cajigas, “I learned real quick not to touch those red mounds.”
Cajigas had discovered a colony of fire ants – venomous stinging insects that attack in large numbers.
Virginians are increasingly encountering fire ants right here at home. More properly called red imported fire ants, the invasive creatures are native to South America, and they have been working their way up from America’s Gulf Coast for decades. Virginia is their northernmost reach. They infest Hampton Roads, the Williamsburg area, and parts of the Petersburg and Southside areas, and they’re homing in on Richmond.
“You do your best to slow it down, but at this point, we can’t eradicate red imported fire ants from Virginia,” said David Gianino, a program manager in the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
The Virginia Mercury is a nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization covering Virginia government and policy.
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