by Pete Mays
Many people who spend time outside and in gardens in the Berkshires, myself included, have had multiple run-ins with fire ants. Myrmica Rubra Linnaeus or European Fire or Red ants, were first found in Massachusetts in 1908. Currently, they seem to be developing a stronger foothold moving inland beyond the coastal wet areas where they have been typically thought to live. Fortunately, unlike the European ancestor who reproduce and expand territory through nuptial flight, fire ants found in Massachusetts seem to travel and set up colonies on foot.
It is likely that the fire ants were brought to the Northeast on ships carrying freight from Europe, and eventually found their way to our home in the Berkshires. Though it seems the home these advantageous creatures have made here will be a lasting one, there are steps we can take to keep them from expanding more quickly. We should keep an eye on materials we are transplanting any distances to be sure there are no fire ant colonies living within the root areas. Soil and mulch material and potted plants should be carefully checked before moving from one property to another. A few years ago, I took part in the transplanting of an ornamental tree from one property to another in the county. It wasn’t until we had the tree out of the ground and were attempting to tie the root ball with burlap that the ants made their presence known. Fortunately, it was decided that we would not go ahead with the transplant, potentially preventing the spread of fire ants to the new property.
There has not been many studies concerning the best ways to curb the continuation of these insects in our area, but there are ways of decreasing desirable habitats, thus managing populations. They like moist, humid soils and lightly shaded areas. They often nest under rocks and decaying logs where there is a lot of moisture, so eliminating these types of areas, especially where you and others want to be, is helpful. If you don’t have fire ants currently, then you won’t necessarily have to worry about these environmental factors, but be vigilant not to introduce them to your fire ant-free area!