(WVLT) - Fire ants are now marching further north into East Tennessee. UT Researchers say they're now invading subdivisions, schools, and farmland.
This ant mound at Knox County Elementary is crawling with thousands of fire ants capable of severely harming anyone or thing that disturbs them.
"Compare it to a hornets nest, a yellow jackets nest, something that's they're aware of that's dangerous," Dayton Hylton says.
Dayton Hylton is a pest control expert with a masters degree in the scientific study of insects...he says fire ants use their jaws to latch onto a person's skin, then use stingers located on their abdomens.
"This is the time you want to avoid the fire ant mount because they're coming out in droves and if they get on you they will sting," Hylton continues.
And now fire ants are in all or parts of seven East Tennessee counties including Anderson, Blount, Knox, and Loudon, Meigs, Monroe, and Roane.
They came from South America, and get their name from the intense burning sensation that happens when venom is injected into the skin...multiple stings can lead to severe allergic reactions, even death. Fire ants do more damage than good.
"They can kill ground nesting birds like quail, even turkeys, they can even some damage to wildlife, or even cattle," Hylton continues.
An online agricultural site reports fire ants cause six-billion dollars each year in social and medical costs...no methods completely get rid of the pests, but some insecticides will help. control the population.
"The way the products work for fire ants is you simply want to carry it back to the nest to eliminate the colony," Nancy Schneider says.
Meantime, experts caution us to be on the lookout.
"They are new to the area, but they are moving straight up I-75," Hylton says.