It may be dry and it may seem like you don’t have any fire ants this year but let me tell you now is the time to load the spreader and put out your fall fire ant bait. Fire ant baits are wonderful tools for controlling fire ants. They are low in toxicity to users, kids, pets, and even most other non-target ants. They are one of the most economical methods to control fire ants, and one of the most effective, consistently providing 90% or more control. So what's not to like about baits? One of the few disadvantages of baits is that they are not equally effective throughout the year. Throughout the temperate areas of the southern U.S., fire ants stop searching for food (foraging) when soil temperatures drop below about 60 degrees F. If the ants stop foraging, they will not pick up baits. For this reason, baits should not be part of your winter fire ant program unless you work in the far parts of south Texas. Currently, the soil temperatures are around 65-70 degrees in the early morning. This means that the daytime soil temperatures are well within the range for treatment. We want the fire ants out actively foraging during the day so that they bring the bait back into the mound for consumption. Fire ant baits are best used when fresh, so any containers that have been opened within the past few months should be used soon. Fire ant baits have a relatively short shelf life once opened. Even unopened bait should be used within two years of manufacture. Because of this, buying large quantities of bait (perhaps because it's at a good price) is not a wise idea unless you are certain you can use the bait up during the season of purchase.
Are you asking, “What is a fire ant bait?” Fire Ant Baits are chemically treated granules, normally corn that the fire ants consume as a food source. Fire ants will be out foraging for food and these baits are very tasty since they are corn grit that has soybean oil on the outside. This is why they don’t last long once opened because the oils will turn rancid. The chemicals used on the fire ant baits are designed to control growth in the fire ants, either as larva or in egg lay. These products can be labeled as organic or nonorganic but all are insect growth regulators that are same for human contact.
As temperatures drop over the next month or two, it will be best to limit all fire ant control to treating individual mounds with labeled contact or residual insecticides. Be generous when treating fire ant mounds with liquid insecticide mixtures. Research shows that best control with liquids is obtained when 1-2 gallons of liquid is used per mound. I recommend that homeowners with pets and children avoid the use of granular or dust treatments of mounds on school grounds, since these products may remain visible on the soil surface for several days or weeks after application. For more information about when and how to use fire ant baits, check out the fire ant website at http://fireant.tamu.edu/broadcastbait/
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- Bob Whitney
- As an Agriculture Extension Agent for Texas AgriLife Extension Service I have had an opportunity to be involved in just about every aspect of agriculture. From the 5,000 cow dairy to the types of trees to use in a home landscape I have had a chance to learn how the different parts of an agriculture systems work together. Seedless watermelons, drip irrigation, pecan orchard management, fruit crop development, dairy nutrient management, environmental issues confronting agriculture, producer tours, field days, research projects and more have been a part of my life for over 30 years as I lived and breathed agriculture. Since 2004 I have been actively involved in consulting internationally working in Honduras, Guatemala, Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, India, and China. I have worked with missionaries and other groups dedicated to alleviating poverty among third world farmers. I lived in the Middle East in 2007-2008 working on a project for the Borlaug Institute of International Agriculture at Texas A&M University. In this project I was the Chief of Party and Team Leader for a $5.7 Million dollar effort to train Iraqi Extension agents and specialists in all aspects of agriculture.