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Ministry publishes map of fire ant-infected plant nurseries

With gardening season approaching, buyers are asked to isolate new plants for several hours to check for invasive insect that threatens local biodiversity, has burning sting

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter.

Fire ants. (Cabezonication, at iStock by Getty Images)
Fire ants. (Cabezonication, at iStock by Getty Images)

As green-fingered Israelis prepare for the new gardening season, marked by the festival of Tu Bishvat which begins on Wednesday, the Environmental Protection Ministry has for the first time published a map and list of commercial nurseries (in Hebrew) infected by the little fire ant.

Listed by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature as one of the 100 invasive alien species that most threatens the environment and biodiversity, the orange-red ant, with its painful, burning sting, spreads mainly between plants, plant pots and soil.

The ministry on Sunday called on the public to isolate newly purchased plants for several hours in a carton, with a bait in the corner, such as peanut butter, to draw any potential insects out. If the insects are found, people should inform the local authority’s hotline as well as the ministry’s pest control unit, return the infected plant to the nursery and seek guidance on prevention methods.

First identified in Israel in the Jordan River Valley at the end of 2005, the fire ant (Wasmannia auropunctata), which is native to South America, measures one millimeter (0.03 inches) in size, although the queen ant can grow to 2 millimeters.

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