The writer, after discovering a large mound of fire ants in his backyard, heads out to learn how the “ants from hell” invaded the American South:

“The range of Solenopsis invicta covers a vast wetland in southern Brazil and Paraguay known as the Pantanal. Sometime in the early 1930s the ants stowed away in coffee sacks, soil, or hollow logs piled in the bottom of a cargo ship. The voyagers were probably just a handful of queens, each about the width of a thumbnail. They ate what they could find down in the hold—cockroaches, beetles, sugary cargo, and, when the pickings got slim, themselves, digesting their own wing muscles and fat reserves. Their ship may well have steamed past Rio de Janeiro, the mouth of the Amazon, and the lush peaks of the Antilles, all while their first batch of eggs gestated in their abdomens. In Mobile, Ala., the ship docked, the sacks or soil or logs were unloaded, and the queens disembarked. Beneath the port’s loading cranes and circling seagulls, perhaps in a patch of newly cut grass, the ants established their first colony: a mound of soil honeycombed with chambers and tunnels that ran as much as four feet deep. They like to build mounds in disturbed habitats such as the edge of a road, the side of a building, pastures, lawns, or near a busy port. They eat pretty much anything—seeds, nectar, worms, weevils, butterflies, and even baby sea turtles, snakes, and alligators—catching the young as they hatch.”