The star of ‘The Ant that ate America’ is the Red Fire Ant – a major agricultural and medical pest that emigrated to the USA sometime in the 1930’s or 40’s from its native South America. Since arriving it has slowly and insidiously crept across the southeastern USA.
As the fire ant has spread it’s earned itself a terrible reputation, destroying crops, damaging equipment and terrorizing animals and people with a painful, burning sting. Now it is branching out from the southern states. Trekking west along the Rio Grande and ‘hitchhiking’ on trucks to the far reaches of the country, the Red Fire Ant seems set to conquer all before it.
We hear horror stories from ordinary people into whose lives the ant has come – homeowners, farmers, inventors, pest control officers, allergy sufferers and doctors. This red menace has spawned an entire industry of control measures – ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous. We investigate the arsenal of chemical, biological and psychological anti-ant weapons.
However the film does not set out to totally demonise the ant. Far from being the mindless automaton of popular perception, the ant is a very social animal, living in complex communities and displaying incredible adaptive behaviour. We explore aspects of ant behaviour and ant physiology, and attempt to explain ant ‘psychology’.
Finally, we examine the recent escalation into biological warfare. Biocontrol is providing perhaps the only hope for the future and leading scientists take us through the latest efforts to stem the red tide. And on the flipside, we find that at least one small community is embracing the fire ant, celebrating the ‘Fire Ant Festival’ annually.
But, just as things begin to seem positive, we discover that the fire ant is establishing beachheads in countries at the far edge of the Pacific. ‘The Ant that ate America’ is beginning its global campaign and could be coming soon, to a town near you!