They look very much like ordinary ants. They are between a tenth and a fourth of an inch but are very aggressive when disturbed and cause a powerful sting that can kill domestic animals and wildlife as well as destroy crops.
Fire ants clamp their jaws on their prey and sting repeatedly, leaving blotchy, burning, itching sores and tiny blisters. Scratching just makes it worse.
But wait, there’s an avenger — the fire-ant decapitating fly. Almost a decade ago, the U.S. Department of Agriculture launched a program introducing phorid flies, a native predator. The fly has snatched more than a few heads off while turning a few.
The BBC became aware of the research on these ant invaders taking place at TSU’s Otis L. Floyd Nursery Research Center in McMinnville and recently sent a film crew to document what is going on in this area known as the “Nursery Capital of the World.”
The segment featuring the fire ants will air on BBC’s “Nature’s Weirdest,” a program that examines some of the strangest natural events on the planet. The production crew selected the Center because of the groundbreaking research-taking place.
“We have been traveling the world documenting odd and spectacular events in the natural world,” said Luke Hollands, producer and researcher with the network. “One of the segments we wanted to document while here in the states was the fire-ant invasion and the methods used to combat the advance of the ants across the southern states. TSU is leading the research in the Middle Tennessee while helping the local nursery industry.”