While the neighbor islands focus on SPOT THE ANT month, we here at the Hawaii Ant Lab (HAL), located in Hilo, HI with additional employees on Oahu, conduct research to focus on how to STOP THE ANT as well. This includes: 1) studying the effectiveness of products currently marketed for “fire ants” that are sold in Hawaii, 2) the expansion of labels of certain products to allow more effective use against Little Fire Ants (LFA), and 3) the development of baits specifically targeting LFA in trees.
There are many different bait products out there for control of ants. The general idea with baits is that they are attractive to the ants because they are mostly food products, and are laced with an active ingredient (lethal or growth regulator). LFA are fat loving ants, so the baits that are made up of that type of food, such as oil, work best at attracting them. The workers then feed on the bait and take home the oils to share with other workers, and more importantly the queen!
Some of the hardest things to deal with when treating any pest is sorting through all the misinformation as well as the sheer amount of products marketed for use. Many products available are designed for a different type of “fire ant” called Red Imported Fire Ant (RIFA), thankfully not found in Hawaii, that is considered a worse pest than LFA. RIFA only lives on the ground and not in trees like LFA, so most ready made products in stores are designed for ground nesting ants only. But if you ever had LFA “rain” down upon you, you know they are in the trees….and there are millions!
Not having any pesticides specifically designed for LFA in Hawaii is one reason why HAL developed the HAL gel bait recipe. This is something you mix yourself, and has a thick gravy consistency. Gel bait allows the treatment of taller trees where granular baits cannot reach, and you can choose which product best suits your situation: Tango (if you have edibles or want to choose a nontoxic option) or Provaunt (if you have only ornamental trees and prefer a fast acting lethal bait). HAL did all the research and development of the gel bait, as well as obtained the special local needs label to allow people to treat effectively and legally. This recipe is provided to residents and agencies free of charge. HAL is also currently doing research for effective organic bait solutions; however, those studies have yet to be completed.
Image above: Mixing a full bucket of HAL gel bait for application. LFA simply can’t resist this delicious treat! Link to mixing demo: https://youtu.be/DD8ndBGjXIk
We have also learned through studies that broadcasting baits throughout your property on a treatment schedule of every 4-6 weeks for at least 1 year is where you start to see true control of this species and on some islands eradications have been made possible using this timeline and the HAL gel bait. So if you have Little Fire Ants knocking at your door this month make sure to give them a trick with their treats and use baits!
Image above: illustrated by Jade Miyashiro as a spooky reminder to survey to find out if you have these scary invaders and treat if you want to control them!