Imported fire ants found in palm tree shipment

Dover, Del. — State authorities are alerting local businesses and purchasers of tropical nursery stock of the recent detection of fire ants in a shipment of palm trees imported from Florida.

The red imported fire ants were detected during a routine check at a Sussex County business by the Delaware Department of Agriculture’s (DDA) Plant Industries nursery inspection team. They were eradicated and officials said they do not pose a threat.

“Buyers of tropical nursery stock – such as palm trees – should carefully inspect their plants for small, aggressive red stinging ants,” said Jeff Brothers, nursery inspection supervisor for the Department of Agriculture. “We need these to be reported quickly and promptly to keep them from spreading or staying in Delaware over the winter.”

Anyone finding a suspicious ant should call DDA’s Plant Industries Section at 302-698-4500 or 800-282-8685 (toll-free for Delaware only).

“We are urging caution on all fronts because of the ability of fire ants to spread quickly and the danger they pose,” said Faith Kuehn, DDA’s plant industries administrator. “We have had good luck so far, but that depends on prompt reporting and inspections.”

Imported fire ants pose a hazard to both human and animal health and to agriculture. Red imported fire ants are small (3-6 mm long) red to reddish brown ants. Mounds can be 18 inches high and three feet across, and have no visible external opening, unlike ant hills.

Stings are very painful, and venom from a fire ant attack can cause a variety of symptoms in humans, including nausea, dizziness and allergic reactions including anaphylactic shock. More information on red imported fire ants can be found at www.aphis.usda.gov.

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