For California agriculture, spring heralds the beginning of a new crop year. And to some growers, nothing symbolizes the milestone more than a flatbed truck loaded with beehives.

Because many bee colonies come from out-of-state beekeepers, the California Department of Food and Agriculture warns growers to be on the lookout for an unwanted hitchhiker - the Red Imported Fire Ant (RIFA).

The tiny, brownish-red insect is common in 12 southeastern U.S. states. Where established, the pest aggressively expands its colony by feeding on crops and eliminating competing insects. The pest will attack anything that intrudes upon its colony. Where it has been found in California agricultural lands, the introduction has been traced back to beehives imported from out-of-state beekeepers.

Here are five points the Department of Food and Agriculture asks growers to consider in order to keep their property free from Red Imported Fire Ants.

1. Have you, or your neighbor, ever used bee colonies that originated from Texas, Louisiana or any other state infested with Red Imported Fire Ants?

2. Do the beehives or their pallets show evidence of packed dirt?

3. Are there any clumps of packed dirt in the bed of the beekeeper's delivery truck?

4. Does the bee colony appear weak or dead?

5. Have you or your workers encountered unusually aggressive ants?

If you answer yes to any point, contact your county agricultural commissioner's office for a free inspection of your property. If Red Imported Fire Ants are found on your property, the commissioners will treat the infestation for free. Traditional ant treatment methods are not effective against Red Imported Fire Ants.