Intrepid reporter: Avoid floating masses of fire ants

One would think that if a large newspaper company were going to rewrite press releases sent to them – rather than going out and finding news stories – it could do so in an intelligent manner.

A reporter for, which is the website for several publications, including Alabama newspapers the Birmingham News, the Mobile Press-Register and the Huntsville Times, apparently decided the recent arrival of Tropical Storm Cindy, with its potential for flooding, would be a good opportunity to rewrite a release from the Alabama Cooperative Extension System on the dangers of fire ants.

Fire ants, of course, aren’t daunted by flooding, as they ball together by the thousands during floods, making small rafts that enable them to survive for considerable periods until they find dry land.

According to the story, “If a person encounters one of these floating balls of fire ants, it can be seriously bad news, causing potentially serious health problems not to mention many painful bites.”

Anyone living in the South who isn’t aware that a floating mass of fire ants is bad news either just stepped off the plane from an Inuit enclave in northern Canada or has serious short- and long-term memory issues.

And it isn’t the bite of fire ants that is so much bothersome as the other end of the critter; the fire ant has a sharp stinger on its rear, connected to an internal venom sac.

Among advice included, directly quoting the Alabama Cooperative Extension Service release, was the following:

During times of flooding, avoid contact with floating masses of fire ants; and if you are in a rowboat, do not touch the ants with oars.

It’s understood that newspapers cater to a sixth-grade reading level, but even in sixth grade, when I happened to live along the Mississippi River, I knew you didn’t mess with fire ants, never mind a floating mass of the pernicious devils.

To be told to avoid contact with floating masses of fire ants is akin to being instructed not to stare directly into the sun with a pair of high-powered binoculars.

If all this seems nitpicky, remember that the fire ant that today has spread throughout the Southern US, the Southwestern US and California, came into the United States through the port of Mobile in the 1930s. One would expect a story from a site representing in part the Mobile Press-Register to have a pretty good understanding of the facts regarding this invasive and painful nuisance.

(Top: Fire ants grouped together floating on water.)

16 thoughts on “Intrepid reporter: Avoid floating masses of fire ants

  1. I had no idea that fire ants could ball together and float. However, all I would need to read in a news article is “fire ants” to know that they’re not going to be my friends. Right up there with “do not eat” on the little bags of desiccant that come with your shoes.

  2. I once spent a couple of nights out with a Texas game warden during deer season for an article about him and witnessed him sneaking up on camps and busting people and got some great stuff out of it. But the best was some great yarns he told about his experiences, like the night he laid down on the ground with his binoculars surveilling a camp. He didn’t realize he was lying in a fire ant bed! He said he started screaming and cussing so loud he started ripping off his clothes and the people in the deer camp were so frightened they eased up on him with their weapons. That’s one way to do a story about fire ants that speakings volumes about how nasty fire ants are.

    • I’ve had my unfortunate run-ins with fire ants, but nothing like that.

      My son, when he was approximately 16 months old, once trundled out the backdoor of our house in the Florida Panhandle without his diaper on. In the yard were weeds and, for whatever reason, fire ants were climbing the stalks. Let’s just say that the tips of the weeds were about the same level as a 16-month old’s genitals. He howled like he’d lost a limb, and given where he’d been stung I understood his consternation.

  3. I’ve had problems with fire ants, carpenter ants, and sugar ants, but fire ants are the worst. They cause pimples that leave lasting scars. Since I no longer use Amdro to control them, I developed a technique of sticking a length of rebar as deep into the center of the anthill as possible. I poured old gasoline down the hole. Used to light it, but have found the gas by itself works fine to kill that particular mound. Don’t even need much.

    I didn’t know they could gather into balls and float, though, so thanks for that tip. I will definitely avoid touching them in the next flood.

  4. As a Midwesterner, I had no idea fire ants formed balls in floodwater, but even as inexperienced as I am with the critters, I am certain I would never attempt to tangle with a whole floating mess of them. No warning necessary.

    • Most folks with a modicum of common sense don’t need to be told to stay away from a “ball of insects,” or at least I would hope. I don’t care if it’s a ball of lady bugs, aphids or some other harmless sounding insect. Mess with a ball of anything and you’re pushing your luck.

  5. It is like unwrapping a computer which gives you a single sheet of poorly designed diagrams telling you how to set the thing up accompanied by a booklet which tellsyou at length that you should not dowse the computer with water and, above all, not attempt to do away with your offspring by putting the plastic bags which had contained the computer and its parts over their heads.

    Years ago the New Statesman use to run back page competitions…I don`t remember the question, but one of the answers has always remained with me…the idea of danger parks for children to eradicate those unfit to breed future generations. Low slung live electric cables, pits with stakes..or perhaps snakes…

    If only danger parks had been in existence we should not now have to suffer what now passes for journalism.

    • I’ve known quite a few journalists I would have sworn had already gone through danger park, and come out the worse for wear. Way too much interaction with low-slung live electric cables, sharpened stakes and angry vipers. And their parents probably put plastic bags over their heads when they were young, too.

      • Clearly did not close the bags efficiently….but it is not just hournalists…I`ve known all too many lawyers who seem to have undergone the same experience and survived: mutated, but survived.

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