Fire Ants and ‘Cow Killer’ Ants: The Bad News Ants of Kentucky
Many, many moons ago when I was much younger and able to climb, effortlessly, onto a horse's back, that is exactly what I would do when we'd travel out west to visit my family.
I would look forward to that more than just about anything, and they always had a LOT of stuff planned. But if we could go horseback riding, that was the whole trip for me.
One of my earliest memories of said activity was an encounter with a big mound of the kind of little red ants I had never seen before. Yes, I am talking about fire ants.
We were warned about them and then there it was. I'm pretty sure my dad got a picture of the one I'm thinking about because it was enormous.
But we approached this anthill while we were riding and my cousin Charlie made sure I avoided it. He told me how painful their stings are and that if the horse stepped into the mound, it wouldn't go well for EITHER of us. Getting bucked from an appaloosa in horrific pain is not a memory of New Mexico vacations I'd ever want.
And since I only ever saw these nasty little creatures west of the Rockies, I thought they ONLY existed in the desert southwest. Well, I was wrong.
As it turns out, it is not impossible to find them in Kentucky. In fact, it was SIX years ago that the Louisville Courier-Journal announced the arrival of fire ants in the Commonwealth, where they were mainly concentrated down around Land Between the Lakes.
But despite that story's headline, it seems fire ants were here much earlier, according to the University of Kentucky, which reported discoveries of pesky critters as early as 2000 in McCracken and Calloway Counties. Why in the world would anyone import FIRE ANTS?
I have been bitten by ants, but the sting was mild OR it left an itchy bump with a white center. I understand that that is MILD compared to the burning sting of a fire ant bite. Hey, they are FASCINATING to watch. Those hills they make are no joke. Just don't ever get one on you.
RED VELVET ANTS AND 'COW KILLER' ANTS
But fire ants aren't the only bad ants we have in Kentucky. That's right, we can also proudly claim red velvet ants as residents. And even though they ARE called ants, they're not ants. They're actually a breed of flightless wasp. See, it just got better, right?
And if you've never seen one, click on this Reddit conversation and you will see an image of one taken in northern Kentucky. Yes, they are beautiful, but in a way that also screams, "STAY AWAY!" Additionally, some red velvet ants make an audible squeak when disturbed. I appreciate that warning system. It's like a rattlesnake's rattle.
But why is a larger breed of red velvet ants nicknamed "cow killers?"
Well, our reliable friends in the entomology department at UK once again have the answer, of sorts. It reports that the female's sting is so painful, it HAS BEEN SAID that it can kill a cow. That kind of wording leads me to believe there's no hardcore proof that the sting, in and of itself, will take out a cow. But I think if a cow could talk, it would let you know that it wants no part of a red velvet ant, just the same.
The cows and I have a lot in common.