How Tall Do Fire Ant Mounds Get?

Imported Fire Ants September 08, 2011|Print

Fig. 1. Tall imported fire ant mound.  Date, photographer unknown. Texas AgriLife file photo.Texas AgriLife Extension Professor and Extension Entomologist Bart Drees has been asked this question many times. Macom and Porter (1996) reviewed mound fire ant, dimensions. "Very large, mature colonies that are a few years old can construct nests over a 0.9 meter (35.6 inches) in basal diameter and 0.9 m (35.6 inches) high", reports Oi and Drees (2009).  However, it is very rare for fire ant mounds to ever reach those dimensions in the field.  There are only a few photographic records on file of really BIG and TALL fire ant mounds (Fig. 1). The figure on the right is a USDA file photograph provided by David Oi and Sanford Porter.

"The tallest mound I have personally measured was 25 inches tall," says Drees (see Fig. 2). No formal effort has ever been made to set any type Fig. 2. Bart Drees measuring a 25-inch tall fire ant mound. Photo by Philip Shakelford. of size record.  However, in July 1997, a small company called Organics Plus sponsored the Tallest Fire Ant Mound in Texas contest. They offered $1,000 and a free fire ant mound eradication program to the winner in each of two categories: the tallest mound in a city and the tallest rural mound (Fig. 3a and 3b). The contestants had to submit a photograph indicating the height of the mound.

All the entries submitted for both categories were reviewed by Organics Plus CEO Ken Watkins and other company personnel, the official judges for the contest were Dr. Roger Gold and Dr. Drees. They made their final determination on July 3, 1997,  Dr. Drees recalls.

The judges and the company personnel flew (Fig 4) from Texas A&M University (College Station, Texas) to Rosenberg, Texas and on to Bay City, Victoria, Palestine, Mineral Wells and Mesquite all on that day to check and confirm the sizes of the finalists fire ant mounds!  Unfortunately, recalls Dr. Dress, the air conditioning on the small plane transporting them did not work and somewhere along the way they visited a site overrun by chiggers, making this more than a memorable trip across the state on the hunt for the tallest fire ant mound.

During the visits they carefully measured the dimensions for each finalist mound.  At the end of  journey they announced the winners. Neither mound exceeded 18 inches:

  • Victoria, Texas – Tallest City Mound winner (Fig. 5)
  • Rosenberg, Texas - Tallest Country Mound winner (Fig. 6)

When they bragged on Texas having the tallest mounds to colleagues in other states, they were told that mounds in their states made Texas mounds 'look like pimples'!  However, there is no hard evidence (i.e. photographs, documented dimensions) that made them believe anything contrary to the old saying,  “Everything is bigger in Texas.” Feel challenged! (Fig. 7).

Tallest Fire Ant Mound in Texas Contest, July 1997

 
Ken Watkins, CEO of Organics Plus, and Dr. Roger Gold get ready to board the company plane to review contest entries.

Fig. 3a. Front of leaflet promoting the Tallest Fire Ant Mound in Texas contest.

Fig. 3b. Back of leaflet with rules for the Tallest Fire Ant Mound in Texas contest.

Fig.4. Ken Watkins and Roger Gold prepare for take-off to judge the finalists in the Tallest Fire Ant Mound in Texas contest, July 1997.

Fig. 5. Ken Watkins, CEO of Organics Plus, poses with the owner of the city category in the Tallest Fire Ant Mound in Texas, July 1997, Victoria, Texas

Fig. 6. Dr. Roger Gold poses with the winner of the country category in the Tallest Fire Ant Mound in Texas contest, July 1997, Orchard, Texas.

Fig. 7. Could this be the biggest fire ant mound ever?

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Citations:

Oi, D. H. and Drees, B. M. 2009. Chapter 30: Fire ant IPM. In Integrated Pest Management (E. B. Radcliffe, W. D. Hutchison and R. E. Cancelado, eds.) Cambridge Univ. Press, pages 390-401, 529 pages.

Macom, T.E. and S.D. Porter.1996. Comparison of polygyne and monogyne red imported fire ant colonies (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) population densities. Annals of the Entomological Society of America 89:535-543.