WHITLEY COUNTY, Ky. (FOX 56) – A new insect is gaining notice in southern counties of Kentucky, and it has the attention of entomologists with UK Agriculture and Horticulture’s Cooperative Extension Service.

That insect is a fire ant, and fire ants are not native to Kentucky.

According to Stacy White, ANR Agent for Whitley County’s Agriculture/Horticulture Cooperative Extension Service, the fire ants came from South America.

White said, “My understanding that they came from South America, came in through New Orleans back in the 1900s, and have been moving northward since then.”

The first siting was in McCreary County in April 2022 when a farmer reported it to Tracie Goodman with the county’s Cooperative Extension Service.

“One of my farmers came to me with the issue. Fortunately, he was an entomologist enthusiast, so he knew what to kind of look for,” Goodman said. “His pasture, his goats were actually attacked by them, so they bit and stung their legs.”

Fire ants are known to be aggressive. They have a black and red exterior and when they bite, it leaves welts, or worse.

“That can be harmful to people, allergic reactions can actually be deadly to them, small animals and children are more susceptible, so there’s an issue with wildlife and lifestyle,” White said.

Fire ants are also disturbing the ecosystem in both McCreary County and Whitley County by inhabiting native plants’ and animals’ habitats.

However, there is one interesting aspect about the mounds they build which Whitley County Horticulture Agent Ben Prewitt points out.

“Possibly these ants release a nitrogen into the soil, and has an impact of this green color,” Prewitt said. “Nitrogen is one thing plants love and need to grow, you can see this green color is a lot greener around the mound than the other places.”

Goodman said there are other noticeable indicators to commonly site fire ant mounds.

“Local farmland, areas that have been disturbed, construction sites, occasionally a backyard,” Goodman said. “But they do like a south-facing slope and they like an area of bare soil, most of the time they like to be in sunlight.”

If anyone spots a fire ant mound, they’re asked to report it right away so the mounds can be treated immediately.

To report fire ants, call 606-549-1430, or email whitleycountyextension@gmail.com.