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Fire Ant Infestations Found in Eight Public Parks

August 5, 2008

By John Hopkins, The Virginian-Pilot, Norfolk, Va.

Aug. 5–Leo Lestino took a closer look at the ground Monday as he sat at a picnic table at City View Park in Virginia Beach.

There are posted signs warning about fire ants, but Lestino hadn’t noticed them until Monday. Then the 25-year-old Regent University student thought about the teeming playgrounds nearby.

“There are a lot of kids out here playing around,” he said. “Everybody brings their kids here. I think they’re oblivious to the ants. That’s scary.”

City View is one of at least eight public parks in the area where fire ants have been discovered this summer, according to Virginia’s Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Most of those parks are in Virginia Beach and have been treated with insecticide in an attempt to eliminate the aggressive, swarming insects known for their venomous attacks on animals and humans.

Since May, the state said it has treated Greenbrier Sports Park in Chesapeake, and, in Virginia Beach, Buckner Farms, City View, Hillcrest Farms, Mount Trashmore, Newlight, Pine Ridge and Rosemont Forest parks.

“City View is the only park where we continue to have a major problem with fire ants,” said Rick Rowe, parks and natural areas coordinator for the city of Virginia Beach.

Rowe said the city had a smaller problem with the fire ants last year at Pine Ridge, a neighborhood park. Virginia Beach previously had a problem with the ants in the parking lot area of Mount Trashmore but has since eliminated the pests.

There have been no complaints or incidents of people being attacked by the ants, Rowe said.

About 30 fire ant mounds have been identified at City View Park, which is on Kempsville Road at the Virginia Beach/Chesapeake line. The mounds were discovered on three of the four ball fields and a multi purpose field.

“We’re not really sure where they’re coming from in City View,” Rowe said. “We bring in clay for the ball fields from time to time but it’s unlikely they are coming in from the clay.”

The first infestation of fire ants in Virginia was discovered in 1989, according to the Department of Agriculture. The ants invading South Hampton Roads are being illegally or unintentionally transported from southern states in uninspected and untreated shipments of plants, soil and mulch, state officials said.

The ants are highly sensitive to disturbances of their mounds and react with swarming, relentless attacks. Some people are allergic to the bites, which typically leave blisters but are rarely life-threatening to humans.

The first death in Virginia attributed to fire ants occurred two years ago, state officials said. A 30-year-old Virginia Beach man died after he was stung by fire ants while working at a home in the southern section of the city.

Chesapeake Parks and Recreation officials said last week that fire ants have not been a problem at any of the city’s parks. However, the Department of Agriculture said it has treated Greenbrier Sports Park this year for fire ants. State records also show fire ants were a problem in 2002 at the Western Branch Community Center in the 4400 block of Portsmouth Boulevard.

So far this year, the state has not been called to treat parks in other cities in South Hampton Roads.

Rowe said Virginia Beach put up signs in City View Park as an “extra precaution.” The red and white signs warn citizens that the park is being treated for fire ants and to exercise caution. Park employees also are asked to be alert to the problem.

“We basically try to educate our folks, and if there’s any doubt whatsoever that there could be fire ants, we make the notification to have it checked out,” Rowe said.

John Hopkins, (757) 222-5221, john.hopkins@pilotonline.com

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Copyright (c) 2008, The Virginian-Pilot, Norfolk, Va.

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