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Local college researches ways to eliminate fire ants in East Texas

Photo Credit: KETK News
Monday, April 15, 2013 - 6:22pm

A team of students and professors at the University of Texas at Tyler are working on research to try to find a way to get rid of fire ant in East Texas, with a virus.

Red imported fire ants made their way to East Texas many years ago from a banana boat in Mobile, Alabama in the 1950’s. Blake Bexstine Ph.D, assistant Biology professor from UT Tyler tells KETK, "(They were) actually brought to East Texas in the late 1980's"

And they can be one costly critter. Some economic reports show estimates of more than one hundred million dollars in damage in cities across Texas. They are also an ecological threat. Dr. Bexstine says, "We've seen decreased numbers of ground nesting birds reptiles, small mammals, so they're a real problem."

Using pesticides to get rid of these things is a common practice, but a lab full of fire ants may change everything.

Dr. Bextine and his students are researching ways to get rid of fire ants in East Texas on a much larger scale.

Bexstine says, "When you think about fire ants on a population size, they're much more difficult to manage." So he and his students are working on ways to create a virus to get rid of them.

Chris Powell is a senior student at UT Tyler studying Biology, and he is on the research team studying the fire ants, he says, "We dig up the mound, put it in a bucket, and rise the water so we can get them out of the dirt."

They then inoculate the fire ants with a virus and monitor them. Powell says, "What we are targeting is more trying to control the large scale areas." He says they have made some progress in their research.

But a solution to the fire ant infestation in East Texas isn't quite right, just yet. "We're plugging away, but science takes a long time.”

Dr. Bexstine and his students say pesticides you buy at the store work great in your home or for small ant mounds, but as for a large scale solution, they are working on it.

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