Two species of imported fire ants were introduced into the United States from South America at the port of Mobile, Alabama. The black imported fire ant, Solenopsis richteri Forel, arrived sometime around 1918 and the red imported fire ant, Solenopsis invicta Buren, in the late 1930's.
Both species probably came to the port in soil used as ballast in cargo ships. Today, imported fire ants infest more than 320 million acres in the United States and Puerto Rico. Imported fire ants are a major public nuisance because of their ferocious sting and aggressive behavior. They damage several agricultural commodities and affect flora and fauna. Regulations are essential to slow the spread of imported fire ants. We must all maintain our efforts to prevent the movement of imported fire ants and protect our agricultural and ecological resources.
The U.S Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Animal and Plant Health Quarantine Service (APHIS) work to prevent further spread of imported fire ants by enforcing the Federal Quarantine (7 CFR 301.81) and cooperating with infested states to regulate articles such as nursery stock and soil-moving equipment.
APHIS also evaluates the efficacy of regulatory treatments for preventing imported fire ants spread by artificial means and revises regulations and procedures as necessary. APHIS works with states, industry, and other Federal agencies to develop and test promising new insecticides and biological control agents. Please contact your state plant regulatory official(s) and/or USDA APHIS website for more detailed information. For summaries of other state's laws visit the National Plant Board website. A recorded webinar is available on Shipping Hay Outside the Imported Fire Ant Quarantine Area.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (USDA, APHIS) develops quarantines for imported fire ants (Solenopsis invicta, S. richteri and their hybrid, collectively referred to as IFA), which are exotic invasive pest ant species. This federal agency has quarantined counties and parts of counties in infested states. Quarantine resources include:
The Code of Federal Regulations (Title 7, Volume 5, Parts 300 to 399, Revised as of January 1, 2003, Page 87-104), entitled Sub-part--Imported Fire Ant, TITLE 7--AGRICULTURE CHAPTER III--ANIMAL AND PLANT HEALTH INSPECTION SERVICE, DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE PART 301--DOMESTIC QUARANTINE NOTICES, provides information about the Federal imported fire ant quarantine.
The Soil Inhabiting Pest Section (SIPS) has been an applied research facility located in Gulfport, Mississippi. The principal mission of this facility is to conduct applied research on methods of combating the imported fire ant (IFA) with the development of population suppression and quarantine technology as the ultimate objective. This is the facility for developing new quarantine technologies. Technology and scientific information developed by SIPS is utilized by APHIS, USDA's State Plant Regulatory Officials (SPROs), the nursery industry, chemical industry, farmers, ranchers, homeowners, and other stakeholders. SIPS has developed treatment programs and best management practices for movement of high-risk materials from quarantined counties to non-infested areas for articles such as:
A treatment manual summarizes available options for specified commodities.
The USDA-APHIS Program Aid No. 1996, Attention Baled Hay Producers – Don’t Transport Imported Fire Ants was published in March 2009.
Download/print Labels Available for Use in IFA Quarantine (January 2014)
All states have regulations regarding movement of sod and nursery stock within state that may be different than the federal regulations. In most states, the state's Department of Agriculture is the contact point for those regulations. However, in some states, this may not be the case. For instance in the state of Kentucky, the state regulatory group is within the University of Kentucky:
Stuart W. Kuehn, USDA-APHIS-PPQ, State Plant Health Director, Texas for useful links provided on this page; Drs. Kelly Loftin and Jason Oliver for review of this page; photo credits: (l) Red imported fire ant, Solenopsis invicta. Photo courtesy of Vinson Lab; (r) Black imported fire ant, Solenopsis richteri. Photo courtesy of Natasha Wright, Bugwood.org.