from SF Chronicle

Texas fire ants invade California almond orchards

Thursday, August 6, 1998

(08-06) 12:20 EDT FRESNO, Calif. (AP) -- Vicious fire ants from Texas have invaded almond orchards in California's San Joaquin Valley.

The invaded orchards in Kern and Fresno counties have been quarantined as scientists mount an attack to eliminate the ants.

On Wednesday, state and federal agriculture department workers placed granules of insecticide bait, which will be picked up by the ants as they forage for food in the evening.

``The most important thing is to control the colony by keeping the queen from reproducing,'' said James Brazzle, the University of California's entomology farm adviser in Kern County. ``When we do that, the queen can't create a new colony.''

Officials planned to place more bait next week and at least three more times over a one-year period. State inspectors will then monitor the field for an additional year.

Sixteen colonies of ants were first spotted last October near Lost Hills in Kern County. Officials recently found 31 colonies farther north in an almond orchard near Kerman in Fresno County.

``Red imported fire ants are a very serious issue in this state because we have not had them here,'' said Aurelio Posadas, a state supervisor for pest detection and emergency projects. ``And we don't want them to get established.''

The insects probably came to California as hitchhikers inside beehives shipped by a Texas beekeeper, said Brazzle. Texas bees are used by almond growers to pollinate the blossoms on their trees.

The ants are deadly to small animals including calves. The insects could potentially ruin crops by devouring beneficial insects.

Bites to humans can cause burning and itching, followed by the formation of a white pustule. In extreme cases, people allergic to the venom can become unconscious or die, scientists said.

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