Friday, June 29, 2012

The Lago Santa Fe Fire Ant Project - 10 Years and Counting

Just got off the phone with Jay Gilbert a resident of Lago Santa Fe, Santa Fe, TX.  He gave me a quick update on their 2012 community fire ant management program, The Lago Santa Fe Fire Ant Project.  

 This community project is a good example of a successful community-wide fire ant management program where the bi-annual broadcasting of a fire ant bait product (in this case Extinguish® Plus)  has resulted in continued suppression of a fire ant population. Lago Santa Fe is a Private Lake Community, situated 25 miles, South/Southeast of Houston, TX, in Galveston Co. The Community consists of 100 acres with four, ½ mile long X 200 ft wide lakes, with 48, one acre lots that border the lakes and 12 lots that do not border the lakes.

Project History

     A quick history on the project.   Back in 2001, Lago Santa Fe was chosen as the site to host the 2002 National Water Ski Championships and the 2002 U.S. Open Water Ski Championships. This meant that in August of 2002, ~1000 participants from all over the U.S. and the World, with up to 4,000 spectators would invade this 100 acre area for 7 days. Initial fire ant mound activity evaluations showed over 160 large (> 12” diameter) active fire ant mounds per acre. The Lago Santa Fe Community realized they needed a coordinated approach to manage these pests. Jay and Lydia Gilbert visited with me about the The Texas AgriLife Extension Service’s recommendations for fire ant management  and we decided to work together and develop an annual repeatable process for the management of the fire ants in this community.
       The Lago Santa Fe Fire Ant Project gave The Texas AgriLife Extension Service a chance to “showcase” the Community-Wide fire ant management concept as promoted by the Texas AgriLife Extension Service and how coordinating the efforts of an entire community can result in an efficient process for managing fire ants in the community over time.

     Fire ant mound activity assessments showed that after a single spring broadcast application of a fire ant bait product, fire ant activity was reduced 85% in the community of Lago Santa Fe before the scheduled 2002 water ski events.  Here is a video documenting this effort.

The baiting was a success and the Lago Santa Fe property owners association (POA) decided to support bi-annual broadcast applications of fire ant bait to manage fire ant populations.  Over the years the Lago Santa Fe community has been able to keep fire ant populations at levels that do not affect their outdoor activities.

Continued Success

In a 2008, the Lago Santa Fe Fire Ant Project was re-visited and the residents surveyed as to their satisfaction of this project over the past years. The residents (11 responses from 40 property owners, 28%) all responded (100%) that they felt the dollars spent by the POA for the Lago Santa Fe Fire Ant Project was cost-effective and all responded (100%) that they wanted it to continue.  All (100%) ranked the project from good to excellent and 10 of the residents (91%) felt very positive about this fire ant baiting program being supported by the Texas AgriLife Extension Service.  One comment from a resident was, “Prior to moving to TX and Lago Santa Fe a few years ago, we had never lived anywhere that had a fire ant problem. We’ve only been exposed to the problem and solutions since living here but have heard numerous stories from neighbors as to how bad it was and how it is today. We certainly appreciate all the efforts made by Texas AgriLife Extension Service and Jay and Lydia Gilbert."

A bump in the road: An opportunity

Extenuating circumstances kept the original organizers and other community members from coordinating the baiting event in the fall of 2010 and the fall 2010 community-wide fire ant baiting event did not happen. As the year ended and the new (2011) year began, there was chatter in the community indicating that fire ant populations were increasing on the various properties, in numbers not seen in previous years (personal communication with Jay Gilbert, Lago Santa Fe resident, fall 2010). When communicating with Jay Gilbert, one of the original organizers of the Lago Santa Fe Fire Ant Project, it was decided to try and renew interest in the community-wide project by making a concerted effort in the spring of 2011 (10 years after the first fire ant baiting event) to make all residents aware of the importance of the bi-annual baiting by organizing an event and taking before and after observations of fire ant activity. 

This time the Lago Santa Fe Fire Ant Project gave The Texas AgriLife Extension Service an opportunity to again:

1)    Showcase The Community –Wide fire ant baiting concept promoted by the Texas AgriLife Extension Service.
2)    Demonstrate how coordinating the efforts of the entire community can result in an efficient process for managing fire ants over the Lago Santa Fe property.
3)    Evaluate if tolerance or resistance (behavioral or physiological) of the fire ants in this community to the active ingredients hydramethylnon and s-methoprene was occurring.
2011 started out to be a promising year for obtaining fire ant management data but turned into a record setting year for Texas by having the hottest average temperature for June through August according to National Weather climatologists. The spring and summer of 2011 was extremely dry in south Texas. One would assume that the irrigation of lawns would attract fire ants. The lawns of Lago Santa Fe were no exception. 

Great Community Participation

Good fire ant activity was seen April 25, 2011.  Over 136 fire ant mounds per acre were observed.  The mounds were not overly large (< 12” diameter) but they were present.  Extinguish® Plus Fire Ant Bait was distributed to the residents and each resident baited their own property with volunteers from the community spreading the bait over community property and property of absentee landowners. Greater than 90% reduction of the fire ant mound activity was observed in the treated properties of Lago Santa Fe when compared to pre-treatment counts.

Were the residents of Lago Santa Fe satisfied with the 2011 effort? An email from Jay Gilbert, one of the originators of the Lago Santa Fe Fire Ant Project in the fall of 2011 mentioned that fire ant baiting again occurred in October 2011 and was facilitated with 4 block captains. Utilizing block captains reduced the burden on any one person and made organizing the baiting event easier.  He said “the fall baiting appeared successful - as there were no complaints compared to lots of negative chatter last year. You will recall we skipped the fall baiting that year (2010) and the ants really were a problem. I have only spotted a couple of nuisance mounds following a 6.5" rain event Jan 9, 2012. We will go after them again in the Spring.”

Block captains were chosen to help facilitate future fire ant management events. Jay summed it up when he said, “We will go after them in the spring (2012)!”


  • Percent reduction from April 25, 2011 to July 27, 2011 was 94.7% (versus 85.5% reduction after initial treatment, April 18, 2002 to July 7, 2002), indicating that after annual multiple application, Extinguish® Plus Fire Ant Bait continues to perform over 10 years with no indication of resistance by imported fire ant populations.
  • The Community-Wide fire ant management concept as promoted by the Texas AgriLife Extension Service remains a viable solution to the management of the red imported fire ants in a community setting.
     It has been a pleasure to monitor the success of this community-wide fire ant management effort over the years.  This effort dramatically illustrates that the coordinated planning for the use of fire ant baits in a community (i.e., all baiting on the same weekend!) will result in a much lower fire ant population, and outdoor family and/or community activities can be enjoyed without the presence of the annoying fire ant.

Interested in Community-Wide Fire Ant baiting?

     If your community is interested in community-wide fire ant baiting give the Texas AgriLife Extension Service a call, Harris County Extension Office.  I will gladly talk to about establishing one in your community..

Here are some important links for you to view: 

Texas Imported Fire Ant webpage:  Texas Imported Fire Ant Research and Management Project fire ant webpage: Imported fire ants
Fire ant management strategies here: Imported Fire Ant Control 
Check out the available fire ant baits here: Latest Broadcast on Fire Ant Control Products

Friday, June 22, 2012

Fire ant bait, varmints, and grits!

Varmints and fire ant bait

Last weekend I received an email that directed me to the Montgomery-County-Texas-Yard-and-Garden-Magazine facebook page where a concern was voiced over the apparent damage to an  AMDRO® Fire Strike product bag (link to post) by a varmint of some type.  If you can’t view the facebook age here is a copy of the photo submitted by Greg and Melissa Mize of Montgomery Co.

Though I did not post a comment on the facebook page, here is the text of the email I sent back to Greg and Melissa.

To Greg & Melissa Mize

AMDRO® is a bait.  It is made out of corn grit with soybean oil.  The active ingredient, hydramethylnon is dissolved in the soybean oil.  More information here: What is a fire ant bait 

 Here is an older publication on baits.  Broadcast Baits     

Yes, animals will eat the bait because it is a food source.  The hydramethylnon is in such a low concentration the risk of any animal getting a dose that would hurt them is extremely remote.

The fire ants pick it up to carry it back to the mound where they pass it among the population in the mound and over a week to 10 days the individuals in the mound begin to slowly die and within 3-4 weeks the mound has no activity.

Any effects an animal will see will be a stomach ache from the oil and corn grit, not the active ingredient.  It is in such a low dose (the ants have to concentrate it before it begins to affect them.  They are much smaller than a cat or raccoon).

I suggest you spread the bait over your yard.  I just spread Amdro over my property.  I have 7 dogs and 4 horses.  I am more afraid of the dangers of the health and safety issues the presence of fire ant cause than any perceived dangers of the bait I am spreading.

I hope this information eases some of your fears.
Paul R. Nester, Ph.D.
Extension Program Specialist - IPM
Texas AgriLife Extension Service
Texas A&M University System
3033 Bear Creek Drive, Houston, TX  77084

To further comment, it is not uncommon to see varmints/rodents and sometimes dogs tear into a bag of fire ant bait.  I have had mice/rats eat into a jug of AMDRO® Fire Ant Bait.  Fire ant bait products are a food source for the fire ant made out of extruded corn grit with a soybean bean carrier (for more detailed information on baits please refer to the publication (it takes time to load!): Broadcast baits

When you open the bag and smell, the odor of the bait product is like fresh corn meal and is very pleasant.  Fire ants are attracted to it and readily pick it up.  Also varmints see this as a source of food and tear into the container trying to get what’s inside if the bag or container is not stored properly.  It is important to secure all pesticide products so children and small animals cannot get into them.

As I mentioned in the email, the active ingredients are of such as low concentration, any chance of an animal getting a lethal dose is extremely remote.  The active ingredients in the AMDRO® Fire Strike product (pictured in the image) are at a very low concentration.  This product is formulated specially for the home owner to be applied in a broadcast spreader used for fertilizer or other granules.  A high volume of the bait matrix (corn grit and soybean oil) is spread over the yard while keeping the active ingredients at the labeled rate for the area being treated.  Yes, you get the same rate of active ingredient just spread out over much more corn grit.

The concentration of the active ingredient in the AMDRO® Fire Strike product  is much lower than the active ingredient of AMDRO® found in the small white jugs.  So, the risk of exposure is further reduced.  Also, one of the products in the AMDRO® Fire Strike formulation is methoprene (an insect growth regulator) that is used as a feed through in some farm animals to prevent the development of flies in their manure.

As mentioned earlier, if you do buy a fire ant bait product, please store it so varmints will not try to feed on the contents.

FYI, I baited my property last weekend with a product that contained the same active ingredients as AMDRO® Fire Strike (hydramethylnon + methoprene) and knocked the "fire" right out of my fire ants!!

Aricanized fire ants????

There were two other things I wanted to address from comments on the above facebook page.  One is that fire ants were referred to as being “africanized" in one of the posted comments.  No there are no Africanized fire ants.  This is only associated with bees.  Fire ants are just aggressive by nature. 

Grits, again

Then there was the comment about grits.  I would like to refer to to a FAQ on the Imported Fire Ant eXtension web page about grits and fire ants: Do grits kill fire ants?

Grits do not affect fire ants.  A laboratory study conducted by Dr. Bart Drees, Professor and Extension Entomologist, Texas AgriLife Extension Service, Texas A&M University, in 2000 indicated that grits were not an effective treatment for eliminating colonies of the red imported fire ant.

For furhter information on fire ants and fire ant control please visit:

Friday, June 15, 2012

Ants, ants, and more ants!

This has been a busy week for me where ants are concerned.  I have been working on a study for the management of the Texas Leaf Cutter Ant (Atta texana) with products from BASF (more on this in future postings) but for the short term I will post some pictures of these interesting ants. 

These leaf cutter ants and can be referred to as "farmers" since they cultivate a fungus in chambers underneath the ground from leaves they have cut from various sources and subsist entirely on the cultivated fungus.  This is one of the reasons why they are hard to manage because conventional bait products are not very effective.  In the case of fire ant baits, the fire ant takes the bait into the mound where it is shared among the inhabitants.  The Texas Leaf Cutter Ant is only affected by the bait through contact.  There is still a challenge getting an active ingredient spread among the inhabitants of a leaf cutter ant colony. 

Their colonies may be 30 to 40 foot below ground and it is not uncommon for them to extend several hundred feet and the area they forage within may be greater than 2 acres.  Your landscape can be a source so watch out if they are in you area! 

Texas Leaf Cutter Ant with leaf

Texas Leaf Cutter Ants entering tunnel
Texas Leaf Cutter Ant Colony along road

Texas Leaf Cutter Ant presence affecting in integrity of road bed
Large Texas Leaf Cutter Ant colony
Texas Leaf Cutter Ant colony along edge of woods

Ground view of Texas Leaf Cutter Ant mounds

Texas Leaf Cutter Ant "Villa". Yes They do like lake front property
If you are interested in more about The Texas Leaf Cutter Ant just do a search on Atta texana.  A wealth of information will pop up.

I also began setting up plans for a long term fire ant management program for the Farm And Ranch Club off of Highway 6 in Houston.  Finished a fire ant control study in La Marque, TX with Dr. Bart Drees (Professor and Extension Entomologist) and Phoenix Rogers, County Extension Agent - Agriculture (Galveston County) and aided in the initiation of a new trial evaluating new tools (sorry proprietary information) for the control of the fire ant.  Whew!  Doesn't leave much time for posting.

So I thought I would pass along a couple of Webinars on ants that were conducted earlier in the spring before I initiated this blog. Both of these ant sessions have been recorded for your convenience and are conducted by experts in the area of ants for you to view if you are interested.  Click on this link to view the Fire Ant Control Made Easy session and this link Ants Driving You Crazy? to learn about a couple of other ant species.  These are brought to you by and the  Imported Fire Ants Community of Practice

Please register at the site.  From the site: "eXtension is an interactive learning environment delivering the best, most researched knowledge from the best land-grant university minds across America. eXtension connects knowledge consumers with knowledge providers - experts who know their subject matter inside out."  Spend some time searching the site.  There is a tremendous amount of information located there.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Are you Two-Stepping?

Yesterday I traveled to The Lone Star Convention and Expo Center in Conroe, TX to begin the third year of a demonstration project regarding imported fire ant management on property used for various functions for the purpose of protecting attendee to such functions from the presence of fire ants.  This fire ant management project is a collaboration between the The Lone Star Convention Center and the Texas AgriLife Extension Service in Montgomery County (Mike Heimer is the County Extension Agent for Montgomery County Texas.  In the last two years we have successfully reduced fire ant populations on the grounds of the Lone Star Convention Center.  Those who might have attended the 2010 and 2011 Toyota Texas Bass Classic probably were not aware of our efforts, but I bet you were not bothered by fire ants either!

Applying Fire Bait with ATV mounted spreader

It has been hot and dry the past few weeks so fire ant mounds are not readily visible, but the fire ants are there.  I placed 15 food lures (hot dog slices!) around the property and was not surprised to find 12 of them had fire ants on them, which meant the fire ants were foraging and would pick up a fire ant bait product.

 Fire Ants enjoying their hot dog in the shade!

This brings up a good question.  Several people have asked me if it is too late to spread fire ant bait.  The answer is no.  As long as the fire ants are foraging, they will pick up the bait particles and take them back to their respective mounds where the active ingredient that is on the bait particle gets passed throughout the colony.  It is still a good time to Two-Step your way to fire ant management.                    
Two-stepping begins with broadcasting a fire ant bait product over your entire yard sometime between late April and May or late September through October. Then you treat individual, problem mounds with an approved mound drench, granule, bait or dust insecticide.
 I have a “rule of thumb” I follow for the broadcasting of fire ant bait products.  Usually in the Houston Metro area the best baiting times are in the spring and fall.  The spring time period would be after tax day before July 1st and the fall time period would be after Labor Day before November 1st.  I also recommend following the broadcast instructions, not single mound treatments.  Remember you only treat the mounds you see, and never treat the mounds you don’t see.  By broadcasting the fire ant bait all foraging ants from mounds you see and mounds you don’t see have access to the bait particles and will take them back to their respective mounds.   Don’t get me wrong, single mound treatments are a recommended technique, I just think you get the best bang for your buck by broadcasting.  It is best to bait late in the afternoon.  DO NOT water the bait.

Step 1: Baits

Fire ant baits consist of pesticides and processed corn grits coated with soybean oil. Worker ants take the bait back to the colony, where it is shared with the queen which then either dies or becomes infertile. Fire ant bait products currently available consist of one or more of the following active ingredients, abamectin, hydromethylnon, indoxacarb, pyriproxyfen, or s-methoprene. Baits are slow acting and require weeks to months to achieve 80% to 90% control. They can be used to easily treat large areas effectively and contain extremely low amounts of toxins. I consider them to be one of the more environmentally sound ways of managing a fire ant population.  A list of these and other products can be found at: Latest Broadcast on Fire Ant Control Products.

For best results: 
  1. Follow “broadcast” directions on label of fire ant bait product
  2. Use a fresh bait product, preferably from an unopened container.
  3.  Apply baits with a hand-held seed spreader or other suitable equipment.
  4. Don’t apply baits mixed with fertilizer or seed.
  5. Broadcast apply when the ground and grass are dry and no rain is expected for the next 8 hours, minimum.  Broadcast apply when worker ants are actively looking for food, usually in late afternoon or in the evening. To test, put a small pile of bait next to a mound and see if the ants have found it within 30 to 60 minutes.
  6. Apply the baits once or twice a year. Baits can be applied anytime during the warm season. 
Step 2: Individual Mound Treatments

About a week after the bait application, treat individual mounds that have fire ants present. Chemical treatments come in the form of drenches, granules, baits, or dusts. There are less toxic and non-chemical means of treatment that are widely available. Some have shown effectiveness in reducing the number of mounds. Closely follow directions on the label. With dust products, no water is needed and they act fast. However, they leave a surface residue. Liquid drenches generally eliminate ants in mounds within a few hours and leave little surface residue after application. Granular products are relatively fast acting and usually require putting granules on and around the mound and then sprinkling 1 to 2 gallons of water on without disturbing the mound.
Organic. Natural or organic methods include mound drench products containing plant derived ingredients (e.g. botanical insecticides), ingredients produced by microorganisms (e.g., spinosad), or biological control agents.

Now back to our fire ant management demonstration project.  By treating twice a year we have taken the population of fire ants on the Lone Star Convention Center property to unnoticeable levels during the past two Toyota Texas Bass Classic events.  With our efforts this year, it will be three events where fire ants are of no concern!

For more information on fire ant management please visit: