EXTENSION: Baits ensure effective control of fire ants | opinion

Fire ants are the most common insect pests on domestic lawns. Fighting fire ants is a never-ending battle in the south, but there are steps you can take to keep your lawn and landscape relatively free from these pesky pests.

The easiest, cheapest, and most effective way to control fire ants is to use bait. Learn how to use bait properly and preventively and you will reduce the number of mounds in your yard by 80 to 90 percent. If you want even better control, there are a few additional tricks you can add to your bait program, such as: According to Dr. Dan Suiter, an entomologist with the UGA Cooperative Extension at the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, will help attack fire ant colonies next spring when they start swarming again. Dr. Suiter says fire ants are now easier to kill for four main reasons.

First, they are more active. This makes treatment with fire ant bait easier. “You can use fire ant bait any time of the year,” Suiter said. “But they are most effective when the ants are actively looking for food

for food. “Fire ants are most active in spring and autumn, when daytime temperatures are between 70 and 85 degrees. Ants actively searching for food pick up the bait and carry it to the nest within the first hour or two. When the ants are inactive , the bait may not appeal to the ants if they find it.

Second, fire ants aren’t too deep in the ground in cooler fall weather. That makes it easier to kill them with a mound, granule, dust, or aerosol contact insecticide. When using these products it is important to treat when the queen and brood are close to the surface.

Third, treat in the fall when many fire ant colonies are still very young. Fire ants mate year-round, but they mate most actively in spring. Mated queens fly away and establish new colonies. By the fall, these colonies are well established but still quite small. “Often you don’t even know they’re there,” he said. “But if you don’t treat them, they will become the great mounds you see next year.

Fourth, and the only thing that makes autumn the best time to treat fire ants, Suiter says, is that winter follows it. Extreme cold is tough on fire ants. That makes bait even more effective in the fall.

The effects of baits also last a long time. They weaken colonies and make them less able to respond to the challenges of winter weather. Young colonies are particularly at risk because they do not have many workers. Hence, they cannot react very quickly to the need to escape freezing temperatures.

So how do you treat fire ants if you don’t know where they are? The key to being successful with baits is using them as broadcast treatments rather than just treating individual mounds. You will never win the fight against fire ants just by treating individual mounds. In addition to the large mounds that you can easily see or stumble upon, there are many small colonies that are just starting out. If you just get rid of the big mounds, the small colonies will thrive because they have less competition and they will grow into big mounds quickly. Broadcast bait treatments target all colonies in the garden, regardless of their size. Radiating fire ant bait is the first step in this process. Use fresh bait and apply according to the directions on the label. Never apply the bait with a spreader that has been used to apply fertilizer. Fertilizer can contaminate the bait’s smell. Use only a new spreader designed for use only with fire ant bait.

The insecticides used in fire ant baits must be slow to act in order for the insecticide to spread throughout the colony. A fast-acting insecticide would kill the worker ant before it returned to the colony with the bait granules and defeated the target. Depending on the bait you are using, it can take 2 to 6 weeks to get maximum control. Lures work great, but you have to be patient!

Fire ants are agony, but now is a good time to make sure they aren’t as painful next year. For more information, contact the Madison County Extension Office at 706-795-2281 or [email protected]

Carole Knight is the Agriculture and Natural Resource Agent for Madison County Extension Service.

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