Liberty man using mushrooms to control fire ants - FOX Carolina 21

Liberty man using mushrooms to control fire ants

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Cotter is working for a natural way to kill fire ants. (File/FOX Carolina) Cotter is working for a natural way to kill fire ants. (File/FOX Carolina)
LIBERTY, SC (FOX Carolina) -

A Pickens County man is working to create an environmentally-friendly way to kill one of the  area's biggest nuisances - fire ants.

He is looking for a natural spray or powder to control fire ants.

Tradd Cotter, a microbiologist and mycologist, operates Mushroom Mountain in Liberty. His budding mushroom business produces hundreds of varieties of mushrooms. Some are for eating, others may be the key to doing everything from soaking up oil spills to killing pests.

Approximately four years ago, Cotter said he discovered a type of mushroom spore that is deadly to fire ants. He said it was located in the mountains and that he is currently working in his lab to study the effects of the spores on the ants. The spores are only deadly to that variety of ants, but are safe to people and pets.

"You could eat it. I've eaten the stuff out of the bag and it actually tastes good," Cotter said.

He said he will present his findings to the Environmental Protection Agency. His hope is that the EPA approval will give him the green light to mass produce the fire ant spores so it can be sold to people in hardware and home improvement stores.

"Replacing an ant killer, specifically a fire ant killer with something of this nature which is more native is seen as a possible solution," said Cotter.

Cotter took a FOX Carolina crew into the woods near his Easley home. He said evidence of spores that can kill insects are everywhere. He pointed out dead ants, hanging from tree branches, with a mushroom spore growing out of them. Cotter said he is able to isolate those spores, take them to his lab, and then study their effects.

He compared his search for dead bugs to an "Easter egg hunt."

In addition to the pest-killing mushrooms, Cotter said Mushroom Mountain grows a variety of mushrooms for eating. They are sold at local stores and farmers' markets. He has also written a book that will come out in August, and teaches classes on growing mushrooms.

But for now, he is perhaps most excited about the prospects of pest-killing spores.

"I feel like we're getting close and that's exciting," Cotter said.

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