Fall in the US is football season. High school athletes take the spotlight under the Friday Night Lights. Football is played despite inclement weather and is not deterred by high winds, downpours, fog, snow or sleet. Games are sometimes cancelled because of gloom of night (if the power fails and the lights don’t work) or in case of lightning which poses a greater risk of mortality than being knocked to the ground by a 300 pound tackle running at full speed. Football is not for wimps and is not to be cancelled. It makes national news when tiny insects postpone a high school football game.
Yes, a South Carolina football game was cancelled because of ants. The visiting coach was livid. “I don’t see how you can keep ants off the field,” he complained. “We live in South Carolina. It’s not like we’re in New York or something. We’re in South Carolina. We have ants here. … I don’t think there’s a field in South Carolina that doesn’t have ants.”
The Home coach when informed by the referee that the game would be cancelled because of the ants eruditely replied, “Huh? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a country fella, so I don’t know all about these things. I don’t like science too much, either, so I don’t know all about that. But I know there were a lot of ants on that field.”
To try to salvage the game, the athletic department and fans went to work digging out the ants. The coach was disappointed with the effort. “That just made ’em mad,” he said. “If you top off an ant hill, you just set off thousands of ants. That’s how it looked.” Officials next poured salt (Huh?) into the mound to no effect. A passionate fan offered to go home and return with some insecticide, but by then it was too late. The game was postponed.
Why the fuss about a “few ants”? The ants were fire ants, Solenopsis invicta, an invasive ant species known for its painful sting and swarming behavior. Fire ants can kill tethered livestock that cannot get away and cause painful welts when people are stung. I have previously posted about fire ants (Fire Ant Control, Fire Ants, True Grit, Rafting With Insects).
Was the referee correct in postponing the game? The league commissioner backed him up. “I applaud them for doing that because, after the fact, when they have the teams and the officials come up with welts on their arms and legs from ant bites, that’s not the time to say, ‘We wish we had done this.’ ” As evidence of a fire ant encounter, I offer a photo from the USDA of fire ant stings on the leg of a scientist who inadvertently knelt on a collapsed fire ant mound. The photo of the stings was taken three days later.
Were the officials being overly cautious? Or are bodies in a pile on top of an active fire ant mound after a tackle a real possibility? The field contained 15 to 20 large fire ant mounds. You decide.