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Hints and Tips for an Effective Fire Ant Management Program in Home Landscapes Using Broadcast Baits

Fire Ant Vicky Bertagnolli

Fire Ant
Vicky Bertagnolli, ©2004, Clemson Extension

When it comes to do-it-yourself (DIY) fire ant control, there is a myriad of home remedies that have been sworn to “get rid of fire ants”. One of the most popular and wide-spread notions is that feeding ants grits will make their stomachs swell up and explode. Notice that the word “notion” is used. First, adult fire ants cannot physically ingest solid food. Second, grits do not contain any toxicant (poison) that would kill the ants. Most DIY home remedies are anecdotal at best, do not provide effective long-term control, and, depending on the ingredients used, can be illegal or even dangerous. Clemson Extension does not endorse or recommend DIY home remedies for fire ant management

Many labeled products are available for fire ant control. These pesticides, in this case, insecticides, have different formulations, including dusts, liquids, concentrates, granules, and baits. When used properly and according to label instructions, fire ant baits are cost-efficient and highly effective. The low application rate and the small amount of toxicant on the bait make fire ant baits some of the safest products on the market for homeowners, their pets, the beneficial insects in the landscape, wildlife, and the environment. Fire ant baits have been extensively tested, and they all work well if applied properly.

Homeowners may grumble that the baits they used “don’t work” or that the bait “just made the ants move”. When these complaints are voiced, questions must be asked about the application timing, methods, rates, rainfall, age of bait, how it was stored, and the equipment used. The failure of a bait application can typically be attributed to user error.

Baits are most effective when used as a broadcast application. Broadcasting baits allows for the applicator to treat the mounds that can be seen, as well as the mounds that are not yet visible. Depending on the spreader being used, set the gate opening just wide enough for the product to come out of the spreader, and not block the gate opening. Then, “turn the hand crank slowly and walk fast” because only 1 to 1.5 pounds of bait (depending on the product) are being applied per acre. DO NOT APPLY MORE BAIT THAN WHAT THE LABEL SPECIFIES. Applying more, or less, than the labeled rate is inconsistent with the label directions and is against the law.

Notice that the words “control” and “manage” are used when referring to fire ants, and no form of the word “eradicate” will appear here. The biology of fire ants and the constant reinfestation pressure from outside areas do not allow for complete eradication. Therefore, precise procedures must be used, as in the following tips, to create effective fire ant management plans.

  1. Accurately identify the ants as imported fire ants. Improperly identifying a pest can lead to pesticide failure, which is a waste of time, money, and, most importantly, an ineffective and possibly unnecessary pesticide application. In order to effectively control a pest, it must first be positively identified. There are at least 121 different species of ants in South Carolina, and the majority of these ants are benign and do not warrant control. Ant specimens preserved in alcohol can be submitted to the local county Extension office for positive identification.
  2. Read and follow all pesticide label instructions. It is a violation of Federal Law to use a pesticide in a manner inconsistent with its label and labeling.
  3. Make two annual bait applications; one in the spring and one in the fall. Apply baits in late May/early June and again in late September/early October.
  4. Bait treatments are most effective when broadcast. Many product labels allow for individual mound treatments for fire ants; however, broadcast treatments are proven to be far more effective. When broadcasting baits in small areas of less than an acre, including yards, hand-held spreaders work well. Do not use belly spreaders or drop spreaders, as the gate openings cannot be restricted adequately, and these put out too much product. If the area being treated is larger, consider the specially modified Herd® Seeder model GT-77. Herd® seeders are capable of being mounted on numerous vehicles and can apply baits at the low rates required by most fire ant bait products. An aerial application can be an efficient and cost-effective alternative when treating 200+ acres.
  5. Baits must be applied while IFA are actively foraging. Technically, this is determined by the soil’s surface temperature. Ideally, soil surface temperatures should be between 70º and 85º °F. However, the potato chip test is an easy way to determine if imported fire ants are foraging. Place a few regular, plain, greasy potato chips in different areas of the landscape or lawn. After 20 to 30 minutes, check the potato chips for fire ant activity. If fire ants are present at the potato chips, the fire ants are foraging, and the bait can be applied. When fire ants are present and actively foraging, they quickly gather the bait. They beat songbirds, ducks, geese, chickens, and Skosh the Yorkshire terrier to it, so one doesn’t have to worry about other animals ingesting the bait product.
  6. Let the fire ants do the work. Fire ants will forage up to 300 feet away from their mounds. When baiting difficult situations, including an indoor infestation in this case, or in sensitive areas, such as near bodies of water, in the garden, or in a compost pile, this foraging behavior can be useful. Bait the perimeter of the home, garden, or compost pile, and the fire ants will forage for the bait. Maintain a buffer zone near bodies of water. Be mindful of rising water levels and never throw fire ant bait into the water, as fish are sensitive to many active ingredients found in fire ant baits.
  7. Use fresh bait. Most baits are formulated with three components, an active ingredient, soybean oil as an attractant, and defatted corn grit as a carrier. If the soybean oil goes rancid, it is no longer attractive and can even become repellant to the fire ants. If it is rancid, they will not pick up the bait. Baits do not store well. So, only purchase what will be used in one season, avoid repeated opening of the container, and store the container in a cool, dry place to prevent the oil from going rancid.
  8. Apply baits when it is dry. Do not water in baits. Apply baits at least 4 hours before an expected rain, turn off the irrigation, and wait until dew dries or apply before dewfall.

Depending on the temperature, metabolic rates, and product used, effects from the baits can take 2 to 12 weeks to become apparent. Be patient, follow the above baiting tips, and trust that this management strategy will work.

Table 1. Fire Ant Bait Broadcast Products for Use in Residential Lawns

Fire Ant Bait Brands Active Ingredient(s)
Amdro Fire Ant Bait
Amdro Pro Fire Ant Bait
hydramethylnon
Extinguish Plus Fire Ant Bait
Amdro Kills Fire Ants Yard Treatment Bait
(S)-methoprene and hydramethylnon
Ferti-lome Come and Get It (bait)
Dow Conserve Fire Ant Bait
Southern Ag Pay Back Fire Ant Bait
Antixx Fire Ant Bait
spinosad
Advion Fire Ant Bait indoxacarb
Esteem Ant Bait
Distance Fire Ant Bait
pyriproxyfen
Ascend Fire Ant Granular Bait
Advance 375A Granular Ant Bait
Advance Granular Carpenter Ant Bait
Abathor Fire Ant Bait
Award II Fire Ant Bait
abamectin
Siesta Insecticide Fire Ant Bait metaflumizone

If this document didn’t answer your questions, please contact HGIC at hgic@clemson.edu or 1-888-656-9988.

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