Fire ants may be hiding in imported hay

Missouri farmers who bought hay from parts of the southern U.S. may have accidentally brought along a nasty visitor.

The imported fire ant, an aggressive, stinging insect native to South America, has infested more than 380 million acres in at least 13 states, according to the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. The ants can spread to new locations as stowaways in bales of hay.

The ants also have a mysterious attraction to electrical equipment, Houseman said. They will nest in circuit breakers, air conditioners and similar items. They have shorted out traffic signals and disrupted power in buildings. According to a study at Texas Tech University, fire ant damage to electrical and communications equipment in that state totals hundreds of millions of dollars annually.

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