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Over the past few year, East Tennessee has noticed a growth in fire ants. Hopes were high that the cold winter would knock that population down, but according to an entomologist with the UT Extension, the opposite is true.

Karen Vail with the Extension said she has seen a lot of fire ant hills around. She said they did expect the winter to lower the number, but the ground never got cold enough.

In order for fire ants to be killed off naturally, the ground temperature has to be one of two things.

The temperature has to be in the low thirties for at least 5 days straight, or it has to get into the teens or lower at some point.

She said the ground temperature never went much lower than high 30's this year.

These bugs can become a problem. Their bites can affect humans and animals.

"Most of us don't like to feel the pain. They bite and sting and it produces a burning, itchy sensation. And that lasts a couple days to a couple weeks. But some people are hyper sensitive. And less than one percent of the population can go into shock when stung," said Vail.

Vail said that there is some good that can come from fire ants. She said they are a big factor in animal decomposition, because they like to feed on dead animals. They also prey on pest insects.

You can learn more about fire ants at this UT Extension page.

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