This last pest is another invasive species. The imported red fire ant, as it is colloquially known, came to the United States from its native South America sometime in the 1930s or ‘40s, likely as a stowaway in ship ballast. The species now covers more than 300 million acres, mostly in the Southeast, where it came ashore, according to the NWF.
The ants, which bite and sting as a single mass, thrive in places where winter low temperatures don't dip too low. "The colder it is, the slower the colonies grow and the more mortality occurs," Lloyd Morrison, a National Park Service ecologist who has studied them, said in an email. "One very cold period in the winter could kill colonies outright or prevent colonies from reproducing."
With warming, those low temperatures don't get as cold, meaning colonies could be less inhibited. Morrison did a study in 2005 that modeled the potential expansion of the imported red fire ant with climate change and found that warming temperatures would expand suitable habitats by about 5 percent by mid-century and then by 21 percent towards the end of the century. This would mean imported red fire ants could be found as far north as Nebraska, Kentucky and Maryland.
And while these ants can certainly provide an unpleasant encounter for any unwitting humans who come across them -- their en masse bites inject their victims with venom that produces a burning sensation and raises blisters that can become infected -- they are actually more of a threat to local wildlife. Swarms of ants can easily overwhelm young birds in ground nests and small animals like mice, Inkley said.
Thinking about all of these summer fun-ruining pests may have you scratching some imaginary itch and eyeing the outdoors warily, but it doesn't mean you can't enjoy what nature has to offer, Inkley said.
"We strongly believe that people should get out of doors," he said. It just means being vigilant and prepared for nature's not-so-nice side.
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