Floating fire ants build rafts in tropical storm Cindy's aftermath

Deadly fire ants threat in floodwaters

A swarm of fire ants clings to a chain-link fence and floating debris in 2004 in Lithia, Fla, AP photo

What appears like bits of brown debris or mulch floating in flooded waters are actually floating masses of deadly fire ants.

Fire ants remarkable survival techniques have been documented before in Hurricane Frances and now the Alabama extension office warns red imported fire ants will look for dry ground and humans could suffer a serious medical threat in the wake of tropical Storm Cindy.

The ants can survive a flood when the entire colony orchestrates a group survival effort during and after a flood. The influx of water will take the fire ant colonies for a ride and angry balls of fire ants float until something dry comes in contact. If that is your leg, arm or paddle, watch out!

This hidden danger can threaten animals and people since water doesn't kill the ants. 

  • Avoid contact with floating masses of fire ants.
  • If you are in a rowboat, do not touch the ants with oars.
  • When working in floodwaters, dress appropriately if possible. Rubber boots, rain gear and cuffed gloves can help prevent ants from reaching the skin.
  • If ants contact the skin, they will sting. Remove ants immediately by rubbing them off. Ants will only cling to the skin if submerged. Even a high-pressure water spray may not dislodge them. However, a spray of diluted, biodegradable dishwashing liquid may help immobilize and drown them.
  • When returning to flooded structures, floating ant masses are occasionally encountered—even indoors.

Fire ants can be found all through all the First Coast.

If you come in contact with the ants after a heavy downpour consider a fast-acting insecticide aerosol spray containing pyrethrins or pyrethrun with a quick knockdown.  Spray surfaces and cracks of infested objects and debris. Then come back after the product has had time to act. Avoid slow acting bait products.

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