NC Expanding Quarantine Area in Effort to Slow Fire Ant Expansion

Red imported fire ants. Source: US Dept of Agriculture
Red imported fire ants. Source: US Dept of Agriculture

By Kay Whatley, Editor

When you hit the great outdoors in North Carolina, sometimes you feel a burning sensation. Immediately, you know that a fire ant has attacked.

The ant sting — it’s actually not a bite — often causes skin redness followed by the “fire.” Many people experience an ongoing burning sensation around the sting. For those who experience an allergic reaction, the ant stings can cause medical emergencies.

You may not know that aggressive, stinging fire ants aren’t native to North Carolina. In fact, they aren’t native to North America. Officially, fire ants are “red imported fire ants” and are known by the acronym RIFA. RIFA are not just pests, they are also an invasive species.

Invasive Species:  A species that is not native to an area — has been introduced either accidentally or on purpose —  and has a tendency to spread widely and cause damage to the environment, economy, or health.

The red imported fire ant was first detected in Alabama in 1918. Almost forty years later, RIFA were detected in Brunswick County, NC.

Fire ants may seem small, but their economic impact is big. Believe it or not, annual RIFA-related costs across the United States run into the billions. The fire ants may damage crops, affect land use, attack electrical or farm equipment, harm pets or livestock, and cause medical issues and expenses for humans.

It won’t help to know all of this the next time you get bitten. Take heart, though, as the state is working behind-the-scenes to stop the spread of these stinging ants. The state is using quarantine to slow down their spread. The quarantine restricts movement of materials that might contain hitch-hiking ants or ant colonies.

Under quarantine rules, residents and business owners in these counties will need to obtain a permit before moving plants, sod and related equipment into or through non-infested areas.

Items affected by the quarantine may only be moved if a permit is granted by NCDA&CS. These materials include:

  • nursery stock (potted plants, trees, etc.)
  • sod
  • soil
  • hay
  • straw
  • logs
  • pulpwood with soil
  • soil-moving equipment

Movement of potentially-infested materials would raise the risk of spreading RIFA. The state prohibits movement of such goods from known infested areas to non-infested areas.

Said Phil Wilson, director of the NCDA&CS Plant Industry Division:

“Failure to obtain the needed inspections and certifications may result in the issuance of a stop-sale notice and rejection or destruction of the regulated article. We know the imported fire ant can be moved through these restricted products. The pest can be harmful to humans and livestock, and we want to slow its spread into non-infested areas of the state as much as possible.”

Fire ant information and updates are on the NCDA&CS website at

See more on their origin and spread in this Wikipedia article.

Warren County Added to Quarantine Area

Approximately 3/4 of NC counties are under quarantine. Starting January 1, 2018, the NC Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services is expanding the imported fire ant quarantine area to include Warren County too. Materials require a permit/certificate to move from an infected county, so now movement will be restricted from Warren County to avoid spreading ants to non-quarantined areas.

For a map of the quarantine area, see this PDF.  A 2017 list of quarantined counties may be found here (PDF).


Source: Joy Goforth, NCDA&CS Plant Industry Division

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About Kay Whatley 2307 Articles
Kay Whatley serves as Editor and Reporter with The Grey Area News. Kay is a published author with over 20 years of experience in the publishing industry. Kay Whatley is wife to Frank Whatley, founder of The Grey Area™ newspaper and The Grey Area News online news website.