Fire ants are no laughing matter. So why am I laughing as I write this? Because my Internet search for interesting facts about fire ants revealed several Web sites that included jokes about them. My favorite: Why did the fire ant cross the road? To eat the chicken that didn't make it. If that one doesn't do it for you, try this one: Why is hating fire ants considered a genetic trait? Because they often run in people's jeans. O.K., that one isn't really funny. But it makes me laugh because it conjures up images I have of seeing the crazy “dance” moves of anyone who realized too late that they were standing on a fire ant mound — myself included. It's not funny. It's not. But it sure is hard not to laugh.

Being on the receiving end of an attacking fire ant will take the laugh right out of you in a hurry, though. They bite down on you to anchor themselves so that they can jab their stinger into you. And by the time you realize what is happening, they've already released an alarm pheromone that prompts every other fire ant on your body to do the same. About all you can do at that point is hop around and brush them off the best you can while yelling, “It's not funny!” at your husband. At least that's the way I handle it.

It's no wonder that fire ants have quickly become one of the most targeted insect pests in the United States — even though they are a regional problem. And while they don't damage turf in the same way as those pests we traditionally cover in Grounds Maintenance, they merit a spot in this issue of our magazine because grounds managers in at least 11 states (and counting) are forced to deal with them year-round. Viewed as a potentially life-threatening insect (a small percentage of people are allergic enough that fire ant bites can send them into anaphylactic shock), not ridding turf of them puts people at risk. As such, more chemical manufacturers are developing new ways to control fire ants. Some products aim to get rid of ants quickly while others tout keeping ants off property longer. To find the fire ant control best suited for your purposes, turn to “Who's in Control” on page 26.

If you're lucky enough not to have fire ants in your area of the country, there is, no doubt, at least one insect pest that challenges you. Take a look at our cover story (page 10) to see if it's among those designated by entomological experts to be one of the worst turf enemies in your region.

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