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May 2011 Letters

TCP Talk

Letters and comments from our readers

Skeeter Hagler

Expert: No Need to Fear Phorid Flies

The March 2011 “WAR” article explains how South American phorid flies are being used as weapons in the fight against red imported fire ants. What is to stop the flies from laying eggs in household pets, livestock or even in people outdoors? Will these flies be a nuisance to the public? Where can further information be found on these critters? Very interesting article.

Murphy Ross, Jasper-Newton Electric Cooperative


Editor’s note:
We asked Rob Plowes, a research associate at The University of Texas’ Brackenridge Field Laboratory, to respond to concerns from Ross and other readers that the phorid flies described in the story would cause harm to humans or animals.

Plowes writes: “The introduced phorid flies are not going to take over or become pests for humans or other species. Pseudacteon flies are only known to parasitize ants, and each species has particular adaptations to specialize on their host ants. This level of host specificity is also true of the introduced flies that attack red imported fire ants. Detailed host testing was needed to get permits for release of these flies. Over 40,000 species of phorid flies likely occur, each with a specialized diet and life history.”

For more information about the flies, go to www.sbs.utexas.edu/fireant/FAQ.html.

More Fire Ant Comments

What a great cover and article on South American phorid flies and red imported fire ants (“WAR,” March 2011). Several years ago, officials with the Texas AgriLife Extension Service in Denton County asked if we would participate in an experiment to see if the flies would winter in North Texas.

One fall morning, we met officials at a family ranch on Denton Creek. We divided into groups of two, put on latex gloves and began to dig out 10 or 12 ant mounds with trowels. Plastic containers were labeled specifying mounds, and the ants were sent to a lab in Florida where they were exposed to the phorid flies.

A few weeks later, when we returned the ants to their home mounds, it was like a bad sci-fi movie in which earthlings are snatched away, infected with a killer disease and returned home to spread the disease. We imagined the ants looking over their shoulders for attacking flies. Winter was mild that year, and as spring came on, we gathered at the site to see if, in fact, the flies had survived. They had and were hovering over the ant mounds. The last we heard, the flies had spread several miles in all directions. While not gone, the ant population is not as much of a problem as before.

Bill Marsh, Fannin County Electric Cooperative

As much as we hate fire ants (a lot!) we hate ticks even more. When we moved to Blanco County in the 1970s, there were zillions of seed ticks in the cedar trees and swarms of them in the barn. They were a frightening nuisance at picnics: There was nowhere to run to, nowhere to hide.

Then, the fire ants moved in and it seems they ate all the ticks, because we’ve not been troubled by them for decades. We can kill the fire ants, but never could deal with all the ticks … so hooray for fire ants?

Marcia Cash, Pedernales Electric Cooperative

Fewer fire ants sounds good, but we would not want to see them disappear. We remember the curse of red bugs and ticks that disappeared from our ranch with the arrival of fire ants, and we expect other benefits might surface with further study. Fire ants may suppress pests like armyworms and gophers as well as the quail and rabbits that we miss.

Arnold Milton, Bluebonnet Electric Cooperative

Please do not let anyone spray phorid flies over the countryside. We are living in near-harmony with the fire ants. My experience in the cattle pasture is that they have a beneficial function in inhibiting the populations of ticks and chiggers. The ants are in turn limited by the serious Texas periodic dry conditions.

I prefer the ants.

Robert Schuhmann, Fayette Electric Cooperative

My personal story with fire ants began in 1977 when I purchased a new home in a new subdivision. The ants had not yet arrived. Our first summer there, it was impossible to have a leisurely dinner inside or out because of houseflies. Soon after the St. Augustine grass started showing up, so did the fire ants. Suddenly, the fly population disappeared. Soon after, I purchased land in the Hill Country on which to build a home. There were no fire ants, but each time I came home from cutting cedar I had to spend an extraordinary amount of time in the shower picking off ticks. After finally moving there, and once again planting St. Augustine grass, which again brought on fire ant mounds, the ticks were gone. My dogs run free in the woods and I have never had to treat them for fleas or ticks and have never seen any on them.

If you have fire ants, they can be easily controlled: Buy the cheapest ant spray you can find and mix it with half water. Kick fire ant mounds and spray them. A good dowsing with a garden hose will drown out many of them.

Personally, among houseflies, fleas, ticks, fire ants and the unknown problems that bringing in another foreign critter may produce, give me the fire ant.

Merle Grall, Pedernales Electric Cooperative

When it comes to getting rid of fire ants, here’s what works for me: Start with dry cat or dog food, stir in jelly to make it sticky, then mix in about a tablespoon of powdered boric acid. Drop a teaspoonful of this concoction onto each mound. The worker ants love it and will carry it down to the queen, killing the whole mound in about a week. Reapply as needed. Don’t let pets eat it. I have a third of an acre on waterfront property, and this recipe has worked for eight years. I make this a quart at a time and keep it on hand.

Anna Lawler, Victoria Electric Cooperative

I wondered how to get rid of ants in my yard without a lot of cost. My brother-in-law suggested a method he discovered while camping in Alabama’s state parks. He filled a gallon jug with a mixture of one-eighth dishwashing soap and the rest water. He poured it on the fire ants’ mounds. No more ants.

Don Horton, Hodges

I live on 10 acres in the Hill Country. Diatomaceous earth, a white powdered substance, is inexpensive and effective. Sprinkled on fire ant mounds, it takes a few days longer to eliminate fire ants than does Amdro Ant Bait, but Amdro is a poison I wouldn’t allow on my property.

Reece Grinnell, Pedernales Electric Cooperative

When it comes to killing fire ants, forget the hassle, not to mention the danger, of boiling water or orange oil. Simply sprinkle Ortho Fire Ant Killer on the top of the mound (don’t disturb the mound when applying). After 24 hours, you can poke your fingers into a mound of dead ants. We’ve used this product for 15 years, and it works every time.

Todd and Dolores Entner, Nueces Electric Cooperative

You have heard the expression “ants in your pants.” Well, on occasion, I have had ants in my pants—fire ants, that is. While working, I’ve had them crawl up so high that when they started stinging, I couldn’t raise my pant legs high enough to get at the little rascals. I’d have to take off my shoes and my pants. You gotta do what you gotta do.

William H. Nowlin, Fannin County Electric Cooperative

When I acquired a small place near Bergheim 20-odd years ago, I was unhappy to find several mounds of fire ants in the corner of a pasture. Nothing seemed to work in getting rid of them. After a time, we bought chickens and enjoyed the fresh eggs. The big surprise came about a few years later, when I discovered I had no more fire ants. I can’t prove it, but it seems to me that the chickens did the job—and in very environmentally friendly ways.

Paul Hudgins, Lake Dallas

Memorable Words from Barbara Jordan

We watched our son receive his diploma at The University of Texas College of Pharmacy graduation ceremony in May 1986. Former U.S. Rep. Barbara Jordan (“The Eloquent Barbara Jordan,” March 2011 issue) was the speaker and said something in her closing remarks that I have remembered all these years: “There ain’t nothing worth nothing, that ain’t a little trouble.”

D. Bryant Langford, Director, Cherokee County Electric Cooperative

Oops: That’s a gas, not electric, trimmer

Had to smile when I saw the picture that accompanied the “Think Outdoor Safety for Spring” article in the March 2011 issue. The article included good reminders for safety around electrical tools. However, the trimmer that the young man is holding is gas-powered, not electric.

Charlie Patin, Houston County Electric Cooperative

Lawn-mowing Article Doesn’t Cut It

I enjoy reading the articles you publish. However, “A Green Way to a Green Lawn” in the March 2011 issue was unbelievable. With all due respect, don’t you service mostly rural areas? Most of these households possess at least one riding lawn mower plus a sizable number of other small engine-operated equipment that the article suggests could be replaced by corded mowers or battery-operated ones. The article states that, “New rules governing emissions from small engines are expected to go into effect in the next year or two.” All we need is more government control!

I suppose the article was intended to motivate me to rush right out and start turning “GREEN.” It instead turned me RED and motivated me to write this note, which I apologize for.

Johnny L. Hodges, Central Texas Electric Cooperative

Brian Sloboda’s article fails to point out that electric mowers require the generation of electricity, which also is a source of air pollution. If green power is the environmentally friendly way to mow your lawn, then homeowners should set up their own wind chargers (turbines). After all, they are the wave of the future.

Alan Smith, Bandera Electric Cooperative