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Don't dance around fire ant control

By Stephanie Schupska
University of Georgia

When it comes to killing fire ants, one University of Georgia expert dances around the problem.

UGA Cooperative Extension entomologist Dan Suiter recommends the Texas two-step approach to controlling fire ants. The fire ant death dance works like this:

Step one

1. Wait until the evening when it’s cooler. Ants don’t forage when it’s hot, or when the dew is out. Use a hand-held fertilizer spreader to broadcast bait granules, such as Once and Done or Amdro. This can be done either around a yard or in a 4-foot circle around each mound. Make sure not to disturb the mound.

“Wear gloves, and spread the bait around,” Suiter said. “If you smoke and get smoke smell on the bait, the ants won’t touch it. Or if you have gasoline on your hands, the ants won’t touch it.”

Step two

2. Give the bait a week to 10 days to work. Then, kick the ant mounds – or poke them with a stick – and step back quickly. If there is any ant activity, use a contact insecticide to target the mounds. To do this, mix the powdered insecticide with water following the package’s directions.

“Get a long stick and run it down through the center of the mound,” Suiter said. “It should push like a hot knife through butter. Pull the stick out quickly and pour in the premixed insecticide.”

The insecticide must be poured quickly because the ants will start running away once the mound is disturbed. A premixed gallon or two of insecticide should fill the mound from the bottom up.

When the insecticide has been applied, the Texas two-step is done, until next year.

Read lables and use pesticides properly

“When working with fire ant baits or other insecticides, always read the product’s label,” Suiter said.

Misuse of pesticides, like fire ant control products, is a violation of federal law. A lot of misuse comes from homeowners who think that what they put out isn’t strong enough to kill the ants, he said.

“The chemicals are pretty much the same as professional chemicals,” Suiter said. “The professional products are usually better formulated, but in general, the active ingredients are similar.”

Homeowner misuse of insecticides has resulted in some active ingredients, like bifenthrin, showing up at unacceptable levels in lakes and streams.

“It’s a granular insecticide put on people’s yards,” Suiter said. “With overuse, it’s winding up in lakes and streams.”

Make them sick, bring in their enemies

Researchers with the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences are exploring the use of natural enemies and viruses to control the stinging pests. Viruses are showing good promise but are still in the research stage, Suiter said.

UGA scientists have released phorid flies, a natural enemy of the fire ant, in various locations across Georgia. Discovered in South America by a USDA-ARS team from Gainesville, Fla., the fly lays its eggs in the fire ant. When the larva emerges, it decapitates the ant.

Scientists think fire ants first entered the U.S. from Argentina on cargo ships docked in Alabama in the 1930s.

Every spring, fire ants fly hundreds of feet into the air to mate. They can land several feet, or even miles, from their original location.

Fire ants were first reported in Georgia in the 1950s. Their mating-flights have taken them as far east as North Carolina and as far west to Texas. The ants have also spread through nursery plants to states like Arizona and California.

(Stephanie Schupska is a news editor with the University of Georgia Public Affairs Office.)

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