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:

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