Fire ants expose writer to pails of derision

A lot.

My first encounter with the pernicious little pissants occurred in 1978 while helping my sister clean up her Columbia, S. C. backyard. We were trying to add some sense of order to what the contractors had comically described as landscaping.

First, we had to police up all the construction debris thrown haphazardly across her yard: paint cans, pieces of 2 X 4s and shingles.

While on my knees trying to extricate a long piece of wire from the hard-packed Carolina clay, I noticed that the legs of my khaki slacks were covered with small black dots. Which moved.

I then realized that an equal number of these mobile motes were making equally good progress on the inside of my pants legs, occasionally stopping on their way to wherever they thought they were headed to jab their tiny little stingers into my flesh.

I never realized how fast a man could shuck his britches. So there I stood in my Fruit-Of-The-Looms slapping my thighs as rapidly as possible, hoping to keep the minute marauders from getting to areas where they had no business and where they could inflict infinitely more pain.

My sister later reported that I resembled an out-of-kilter windmill, alternately slapping, hopping and uttering words neither of us would have wanted our mother to hear.

I thought for a moment that she was also under attack because she seemed, as far as I could tell when I had the time to look away from my own endeavour, to be rolling around the ground in some kind of agony. I later discovered that something about the scene struck her as comic, and she gave way to fits of laughter.

She finally composed herself, however, enough at least to find her water hose, with which she drenched my lower extremities and washed away the few fire ants that I had not already slapped into insect hell.

The final tally indicated 37 ant stings, which a day later had turned into garish pustules with an IQ (itch quotient) of about 2 million. It took several bottles of calamine lotion to ease the pain. To say nothing of the emotional scars I bear to this day from the embarrassment of prancing around in an urban neighborhood more naked than not.

I've had other encounters, but none so dramatic as that first attack. I often enrage a mound of fire ants while working in my yard and I'll occasionally suffer a sting or two. But I'm a bit more careful about how I crawl around on areas where these tiny devils are likely to reside. I hate fire ants.

So, it was with extreme interest and more than a bit of malicious glee that I learned of a new attempt to rid the country of this pestilence. Scientists have discovered a tiny fly that depends on the fire ant for survival. The adult female stings a fire ant just behind his nasty little head, and deposits an egg. When the egg hatches, the larvae set about to decapitate the ant. I can't think of a more appropriate punishment.

Currently, Texas A&M researchers are evaluating a test site at which these flies were released to wreak havoc on the resident fire ant population. With any luck, the flies will eradicate every last one.

I suppose well meaning but ignorant environmental purists will attempt to foil the plot, assuming, wrongly, that a fire ant has a right to inhabit as much of the Southwest as it can stake a claim to.

I would like to help educate them. I think a handful of angry fire ants slipped into the back of their BVDs ought to convince them to allow science to prevail.

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