Fire Ant Quarantines and Regulations

Red imported fire ant, Solenopsis invicta. Photo courtesy of Vinson Lab; History

Two species of imported fire ants were introduced into the United States from South America at the port of Mobile, Alabama. The black imported fire ant, Solenopsis richteri Forel, arrived sometime around 1918 and the red imported fire ant, Solenopsis invicta Buren, in the late 1930’s.

Both species probably came to the port in soil used as ballast in cargo ships. Today, imported fire ants infest more than 370 million acres in the United States and Puerto Rico. Imported fire ants are a major public nuisance because of their ferocious sting and aggressive behavior. They damage several agricultural commodities and affect flora and fauna. Regulations are essential to slow the spread of imported fire ants. We must all maintain our efforts to prevent the movement of imported fire ants and protect our agricultural and ecological resources.

Federal Efforts

The U.S Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Animal and Plant Health Quarantine Service (APHIS) work to prevent further spread of imported fire ants by Black imported fire ant, Solenopsis richteri. enforcing the Federal Quarantine (7 CFR 301.81) and cooperating with infested states to regulate articles such as nursery stock and soil-moving equipment.

APHIS also evaluates the efficacy of regulatory treatments for preventing imported fire ants spread by artificial means and revises regulations and procedures as necessary. APHIS works with states, industry, and other Federal agencies to develop and test promising new insecticides and biological control agents. Please contact your state plant regulatory official(s) and/or USDA APHIS PPQ Imported Fire Ant website for more detailed information.  For summaries of other state’s laws visit the National Plant Board website.  A recorded webinar is available on Shipping Hay Outside the Imported Fire Ant Quarantine Area.

Developing Quarantines

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (USDA, APHIS) develops quarantines for imported fire ants (Solenopsis invicta, S. richteri and their hybrid, collectively referred to as IFA), which are exotic invasive pest ant species. This federal agency has quarantined counties and parts of counties in infested states. Quarantine resources include:

  • Most recent official map of quarantined areas.
  • Geographic Distribution of Imported Fire Ants and Their Natural Enemies
  • To see if you live in an imported fire ant quarantined area, you can put an address in the interactive quarantine map.
  • These quarantines are enforced primarily by state regulatory agencies.  The National Plant Board website has links to all the state regulatory agencies. States may also have developed additional state quarantines and regulations (see Regional Information About Fire Ants or contact state regulatory agency personnel).
  • The Imported Fire Ant Quarantine regulates the transport of the following items: The PPQ Treatment Manual contains all Plant Protection and Quarantine approved treatments for both import and domestic programs. To find approved treatments for regulated items moving outside the IFA quarantine, go to the APHIS Manuals website, select “Commodity Import/Export Manuals”, scroll to bottom of page to find Treatment Manual, open a pdf (large pdf); go to “Domestic Treatments” and then “Imported Fire Ant”
  • Soil
  • Plants with roots and soil attached (except house plants maintained indoors and not for sale)
  • Grass sod
  • Baled hay and straw that have been stored in contact with the soil
  • Used soil moving equipment
  • Any other products, articles, or means of conveyance of any character whatsoever not covered by the above, when it is determined by an inspector that they present a hazard of spread of the imported fire ant and the person in possession thereof has been notified

The Code of Federal Regulations (Title 7, Volume 5, Parts 300 to 399, Revised as of January 1, 2003, Page 87-104), entitled Sub-part–Imported Fire Ant, TITLE 7–AGRICULTURE CHAPTER III–ANIMAL AND PLANT HEALTH INSPECTION SERVICE, DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE PART 301–DOMESTIC QUARANTINE NOTICES, provides information about the Federal imported fire ant quarantine.

The Soil Inhabiting Pest Section (SIPS) was a USDA, APHIS applied research facility located in Gulfport, Mississippi and moved to Biloxi, MS in 2012. It is now known as the CPHST Biloxi Station. The principal mission of this facility is to conduct applied research on methods of combating the imported fire ant (IFA) with the development of population suppression and quarantine technology as the ultimate objective. This is the facility for developing new quarantine technologies, however the majority of the work is currently outsourced though agreements with universities and other federal entities. Technology and scientific information developed by the Biloxi Station and it’s cooperators is utilized by APHIS, State Plant Regulatory Officials (SPROs), the nursery industry, chemical industry, farmers, ranchers, homeowners, and other stakeholders. The Biloxi Station has developed treatment programs and best management practices for movement of high-risk materials from quarantined counties to non-infested areas for articles such as:

A treatment manual summarizes available options for specified commodities.

Download/print Labels Available for Use in IFA Quarantine (January 2017)

State Regulations

All states have regulations regarding movement of sod and nursery stock within state that may be different than the federal regulations. In most states, the state’s Department of Agriculture is the contact point for those regulations. However, in some states, this may not be the case. For instance in the state of Kentucky, the state regulatory group is within the University of Kentucky, however a list of all state contacts and links to state laws and regulations may be found on the National Plant Board site.



Stuart W. Kuehn, USDA-APHIS-PPQ, State Plant Health Director, Texas for useful links provided on this page; Drs. Kelly Loftin and Jason Oliver for review of this page; photo credits:  (l) Red imported fire ant, Solenopsis invicta. Photo courtesy of Vinson Lab; (r) Black imported fire ant, Solenopsis richteri. Photo courtesy of Natasha Wright,