RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services warns that fire ants are making their way to the Richmond area.

David Gianino, a spokesperson for the agency, confirms this is a concern that the Commonwealth is keeping an eye on. “At this point, we do know that fire ants are here in Virginia,” he said. “They’re probably here to stay.”

The species has been present in the Commonwealth since the 1980s, but over the past two years, experts say the ants have popped up more frequently at a concerning rate.

“In recent years, their range has been expanding westward and a bit more northwards, so they’re actually kind of on the move,” Gianino said.

A fire-ant mound. Credit: Angela Duncan / Dinwiddie Cooperative Extension Services

Gianino added that since fire ants — classified in the genus Solenopsis — are an invasive species, they can be difficult to manage. They can be eradicated from small communities, but once they expand at the state level, tackling their growth becomes a new challenge.

“You need to switch over to what’s called either mitigation, slowing the spread or suppression of the populations,” Gianino said.

On top of being difficult to manage, fire ants can be very dangerous upon human contact. Gianino said many people are susceptible to severe allergic reaction if bitten. “There is a human health element where their bite can actually cause some inflamed pustules on your body,” he said.

Gianino added that individuals who suspect they’ve stumbled across a fire-ant mound should not attempt to get rid of it themselves. Rather, they should call the Virginia Department of Agriculture immediately to ensure it is reported, accounted for and properly taken care of.