Fire ants remain the most prevalent outdoor ant pest in most areas of the southern U.S. Throughout the U.S. we estimate the annual cost of fire ant control at over $6 billion. But the cost of this pest goes far beyond measurable dollars. Fire ants reduce the recreational value of our parks and backyards, disrupt wildlife populations, and send thousands to emergency rooms each year from their painful stings.
So as we get ready to enter fire ant season, it may be a good time to bring yourself and your staff up to speed on fire ant control. Many people are surprised to learn that fire ants are not an especially difficult pest to manage, once the biology and control tools are understood.
One of the best places to learn about fire ant management is the eXtension fire ant website, a place where the best information about fire ant is assembled by Extension agencies throughout the South. This information was recently summarized and presented in an informative webinar by Dr. Fudd Graham, fire ant specialist with Auburn University. Dr. Graham focuses on fire ant biology and use of baits for fire ant control.
It’s worth knowing something about how fire ant baits work because they are the most economical, ecologically friendly, and effective control methods for fire ants. The webinar will provide you or your technician with an hour of training that should pay for itself many times over.
Mike Merchant is an entomology specialist for Texas AgriLife Extension. He works with pest management professionals, school facilities managers, extension volunteers, researchers and other extension professionals. His areas of specialty center on research on insects affecting man including spiders, scorpions, fire ants, termites and others. His program also focuses on training school maintenance professionals in principles of integrated pest management (IPM). His goal is to make schools healthier, cleaner places to study and live.
Ask most PMPs who specialize in structural pest control what they know about scale insects, and you’ll get a blank stare. Pest management techs are typically taught little about insect pests of plants, especially tiny, non-descript pests that are frequently well-camouflaged from all but the most highly trained observers.
This is a mistake. A well-trained commercial or residential pest control PMP needs to know about plant pests, especially scales and their cousins the aphids, whiteflies and mealybugs. The key reason is that scales are part of the ecosystem surrounding the home or business, and can play an important role in insect life coming indoors…especially when it comes to ants.
You know ants. Only one of the most important pest issues for the industry around the world. The vast majority of indoor pest ants are sugar-loving. But these ants don’t get their sweet tooth from sheer gluttony (like us!); ants have evolved with a heavy reliance on sugary foods in the form of honeydew.
Honeydew is the sweet excretion product of many plant feeding insects, including scales, aphids, mealybugs, whiteflies and others. Most of us have experienced honeydew when parking a vehicle under a tree during the summer months. Those sticky drops all over the windshield were honeydew, or less delicately, insect poop.
Much like our obsession with sugar, ants have an interesting relationship with honeydew producing insects. It turns out that ants have been relying on the scale insects for so long that both scale and ant have become co-dependent. The ant gets a free, long-term, stationary food source. The scales benefit from the ants keeping down excess honeydew and mold on the old leaf, and even get protection from predators like lady beetles and parasitic wasps.
Ants that naturally feed on honeydew include carpenter ants, crazy ants, odorous house ant, Argentine ants, acrobat ants, rover ants and fire ants…and probably several others I’m forgetting at the moment. If you’re battling any of these critters on a regular basis, you might need to know something about why ants are attracted to your accounts in the first place. In many cases it probably has something to do with the presence of scale insects around the building perimeter.
Sticky, shiny leaves are one tip-off that scale-like insects may be feeding on your customers’ plants. Also look for waxy crusts often associated with aphids, scales and mealybugs. Honeydew also serves to grow a black mold called “black sooty mold”, another unsightly clue to a problem.
A few years ago when industry giant (at the time) American Cyanamid was searching for an improved bait for carpenter ant control they turned to experts in insect honeydew for insight. Researchers found that mimicking some of the natural constituents of insect honeydew in an artificial bait was a good strategy for designing a more effective bait.
I’m not suggesting that all ants are attracted to your accounts just because of sugar-pooping pests, but I guarantee you that, when present, these insects will contribute to an ant problem. So what can be done? First of all, learn the signs of honeydew producing insects, and how to select some of the excellent control products on the market.
There’s a lot to learn about scale insects–more than I can cover here; but if you’re interested in learning a little more, check out this link to a PowerPoint presentation I gave on the subject. The topic is scale insects and their control. I hope the pictures and notes will give you an interesting introduction to the subject and a taste to learn more. Speaking of taste, I think I hear a KitKat bar calling my name.
This is an excerpt from the UGA publication Argentine Ants by Dan Suiter and Brian Forschler, Department of Entomology
To survive the winter, Argentine ants commonly move into protected environments where temperatures are warmer and environmental conditions more stable. In structures, for example, ants commonly move into voids and other elements of construction that provide a warm, stable environment.
As spring temperatures return, Argentine ants move back into their preferred, outdoor nest sites where colonies grow steadily throughout the warm season. In the Southeast, populations typically peak in late summer. By early winter, declining temperatures once again trigger ants to begin searching for protected overwintering sites, and the cycle repeats.
To prevent large, late-season ant populations, and the resulting problems associated with winter infestations, management practices (especially outdoor baiting) should be started in the spring and continued through the warm season.
There are a number of approaches that can be utilized for the treatment of existing Argentine ant infestations, but no single insecticide-based approach is completely effective. An integrated approach, therefore, that incorporates both chemical and nonchemical techniques is best suited for the management of this ant species. If chemical controls are utilized, read and follow all pesticide label instructions, and never do more than what the label permits.
Before chemically-based Argentine ant control measures are undertaken, a thorough inspection of the indoor and outdoor premises should be conducted to determine the extent and origin of the infestation. The inspection should identify those areas where chemical control approaches should be directed.
Daniel R. Suiter, Department of Entomology, University of Georgia, Griffin, GA
In August 2013 James Morgan (UGA Extension Agent in Albany, GA) was the first to find the tawny crazy ant, Nylanderia fulva, in Georgia. Read the story here. Until Morgan’s find, the tawny crazy ant was known from sporadic counties in Mississippi and Louisiana, but was widely-distributed in Texas and Florida.
The tawny crazy ant was formerly known as:
The Rasberry crazy ant (after a pest control operator, Mr. Tom Rasberry, the discoverer of N fulva in Texas)
The hairy crazy ant (under a microscope the ant appears hairy) and
The Caribbean crazy ant (given its FL distribution)
The tawny crazy ant is an invasive ant species from South America with widespread distribution in Texas and Florida. The tawny crazy ant’s biology and general, visual appearance, to the untrained eye, is similar to that of another South American invasive ant species common in Georgia, the Argentine ant (Linepithema humile) (known to Georgians as “sugar ants”). While the tawny crazy ant was detected in Georgia in 2013, the Argentine ant has been established in Georgia for more than 100 years. Neither are native to Georgia.
In August 2014 three additional tawny crazy ant sites were brought to our attention by Jarrell Jarret, Arrow Exterminators in Brunswick, GA in conjunction with Don Gardner, UGA Extension Agent. Two sites were found at I-95, exit 26 (Waverly, GA). Neither site was more than a quarter mile from the interstate (one east and one west of I-95). Both sites are in Camden county.
We suspect ants were transported from Florida. A fourth site was found just 3 miles north on I-95, at a gas station (exit 29). This site is in Glynn county.
We suggest that UGA Extension Agents and Pest Control Operators on Georgia’s coast, in southeast Georgia, and in the southern half of Georgia should be on alert for the existence of this major nuisance ant pest. In areas of Texas where the tawny crazy ant has appeared, it has become a tremendous nuisance. Although unseen, and perhaps less appreciated by homeowners, invasive species, including ants, can be highly disruptive to native habitats. Invasive ants commonly drive native ant species to extinction, and can disrupt the “balance” of native ecosystems, resulting in a cascade of detrimental impacts on a system’s ecology.
Control of the tawny crazy ant is similar to control of the Argentine ant, and includes (primarily) the direct application (strictly by label) of fipronil, pyrethroids, or other labeled sprays to trailing ants and nest sites (concentrations of workers, brood, and queens) around structures. Secondarily, baits can be utilized, but due to colony size and distribution, baits are less effective than perimeter sprays at alleviating this pest’s nuisance status.
The movement of tawny crazy ants into un-infested areas is aided by human beings (potted plants and other personal belongings). tawny crazy ant colonies reproduce by budding. tawny crazy ants do not have nuptial flights, so cannot move long distances unless their movement is aided by humans.
Because the tawny crazy ant is commonly found nesting in and amongst human debris and trash, it is important, in conjunction with chemical treatments, to maintain a tidy property. If this entails maintaining and cleaning-up the outside environment in an area where the tawny crazy ant already exists, it is critically important to not exacerbate the problem by moving the ant to an un-infested site in infested debris in an attempt to tidy the property.
Report Findings of the tawny crazy ant.
Should Pest Control Operators (PCO) or UGA Extension Agents find what they think to be a tawny crazy ant infestation, it is important to send a physical sample for confirmation of their identification. Send physical samples to Dr. Dan Suiter, UGA Griffin Campus, Department of Entomology, 1109 Experiment Street, Griffin, GA 30223. Call Dr. Suiter at 770-233-6114 or email him.
Bait Formulations. Baits must be eaten by the target pest — typically rodents, termites, ants, cockroaches, and other miscellaneous pests (Figure 2). Baits are comprised of an active ingredient incorporated into a palatable, if not preferred, food source. Bait products usually contain inert ingredients (e.g., preservatives, thickeners, gels, and fillers) intended to stabilize and enhance the shelf life and palatability of the bait. Logically, it is important that bait ingredients (actives and inerts) not be a deterrent to feeding.
Baits are most commonly formulated as ready-to-use liquids, gels, pastes, granules, dusts, stations, pellets, and blocks. Depending on the product’s label, baits can be used both indoors and outdoors, are generally target-specific, and are considered environmentally-friendly because only small amounts of active ingredient are delivered, usually from a point source. Because baits must be eaten, it is important to keep them away from non-target organisms.
To facilitate bait consumption:
Neither the active ingredient nor any other part of the bait should be a feeding deterrent.
The food source should be palatable (perhaps even preferred) by the target pest.
In addition, for social insect pests (especially ants) it is important that the active ingredient be slow acting. Ants and termites share food with their colony mates in a social behavior known as trophallaxis (Figure 1). Trophallaxis results in active ingredient distribution throughout social insect colonies. It is, therefore, important that the active ingredient be slow acting over a range of concentrations in order to provide sufficient time for toxicant distribution among nestmates. Fast-acting active ingredients or excessively high concentrations of the active ingredient may too quickly impair a social insect’s ability to engage in trophallaxis, thereby rendering the bait less effective.
When water levels rise, red fire ants (Solenopsis invicta) stream from their nests and rapidly grip onto their nearest neighbors in order to form rafts to carry them to safety. Each individual ant is denser than water and is in danger of sinking. However, the ants somehow manage to stay afloat, and they don’t just draw the line at constructing rafts — they routinely form bivouacs, assemble towers, and even coalesce into droplets when swished in a cup.
“You can consider them as both a fluid and a solid,” said David Hu from the Georgia Institute of Technology, who teamed up with Paul Foster and Nathan Mlot to investigate how balls of living fire ants self-assemble.
Daniel R. Suiter and Brian T. Forschler, UGA Department of Entomology
Carpenter ants are pests for several reasons. First, they are considered mild wood-destroying organisms because they chew wood to create nest sites. They do not eat wood (as do termites), but excavate it with their strong, serrated mandibles to create random galleries where they nest. Second, because of their abundance and large size carpenter ants can be a nuisance when they forage in and around the home. Read the entire publication on Carpenter Ants
Daniel R. Suiter and Brian T. Forschler, UGA Department of Entomology
Argentine ants are one of the most common nuisance insect pests in the southeastern United States and in California. Worker ants are light brown and about three-sixteenths of an inch long.
A mature colony of Argentine ants can consist of a million or more worker ants and hundreds of queens. Argentine ants form large colonies that consist of numerous nest sites that encompass large foraging areas (often multiple properties). Ants may travel hundreds of feet from nest sites to feeding sites and other nest sites on well-organized foraging trails (Figure 2). Argentine ant trails have been measured in excess of 350 feet in Georgia. Read more on Argentine Ant Control
Past trainings and webinars have been recorded and made available online. For more information, click on the links below. Not all webinars originate from Georgia, so not all information may be pertinent to our area.
Dr. Nancy Hinkle, Professor in the Department of Entomology at the University of Georgia.
People list spiders as one of their greatest fears. This webinar helps you to identify and to understand the biology of spiders common in Georgia. Click here to view the webinar For more webinars in this series, see All Bugs Good and Bad 2014 Webinar Series.
A newly-hired University of Georgia entomologist hopes to develop genetic resources to understand fire ant success in the southeastern United States. Ultimately, this research could lead to new methods to reduce the number of fire ants inflicting pain on humans and taking over lawns and pastures across Georgia.
“I’m searching for methods to knock down specific genes in the fire ant. The ability to perturb gene function can help us better understand the basis of traits related to fire ant social structure and population density,” said Brendan Hunt, an entomologist in the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and the newest faculty member of the Griffin campus.
Knowing more about fire ant genetics could lead to new control applications, he said.
Hunt earned a doctorate at Georgia Tech where he studied fire ant genetics and molecular evolution of social insects. He was also involved with the sequencing of the fire ant genome.
He is also interested in how environmental factors affect animal development. Hunt says a “model example” of the environment’s influence on development can be found in honeybees and fire ants.
“A female honeybee or fire ant egg can develop either into a queen or a worker and based on nutritional and feeding differences during their development,” he said. “A queen actively produces and lays eggs for a long time and lives for a long time while a worker is basically sterile.”
To build his research program at UGA, Hunt is collecting fire ants, an easy task as he’s found plenty living outside his office. “They are everywhere on this campus, which is great for me. One of the reasons fire ants are so successful is that they love mowed lawns, meadows and farmland,” Hunt said. In addition to studying fire ants, Hunt teaches undergraduate classes on the UGA Griffin campus.
For information on how to control fire ants in Georgia, see the UGA CAES publication “Managing Imported Fire Ants in Urban Areas” at www.caes.uga.edu/publications.
Sharon Dowdy is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences
The tawny crazy ant has made its way into Georgia for the first time. University of Georgia Extension agent James Morgan of Dougherty County discovered the ant—which originates from South America—on Aug. 15 and submitted a sample to the University of Georgia for identification.
Prior to his discovery, the ant was found only in a few counties in Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas. Where it occurs in those states, it is a major nuisance. Morgan stumbled upon the ants at an assisted living facility, after the director called the UGA Extension office for help controlling the insect.
Thousands travelling together
“What I found was thousands of dead ants in a pile in the corner of the bathroom floor,” Morgan said. “The duplex was vacant, and the ants had come in looking for a food source. When they came in, they died and we found hundreds of them piled up around baseboards and in corners.”
After further investigation outside the facility, Morgan found droves of the ants in an outbuilding. “We found them in the lawn on debris and dead wood, and we traced them back to a storage area that was full of appliances,” he said.
Accustomed to identifying Argentine ants, fire ants and other ants common to Georgia, Morgan knew these ants were different. “They’re reddish in color, very tiny, and they run around and scurry really fast. And they don’t march in a straight row like Argentine ants,” Morgan said.
Confirmed as tawny crazy ants
He sent a sample to UGA entomologist Dan Suiter, an Extension specialist in urban entomology housed on the UGA campus in Griffin. The samples were confirmed as tawny crazy ants (Nylanderia fulva) by taxonomist Joe MacGown at the Mississippi Entomological Museum.
The ant is classified as a nuisance because of its attraction to electricity and because it travels in masses. It likes to get into electrical boxes, Suiter said. Large accumulations of the ant can cause short circuits and clog switching mechanisms, which can result in electrical shortages in phone lines, air conditioning units, chemical-pipe valves, computers, security systems and other electrical locations.
“Most people will be overwhelmed by the number of tawny crazy ants they’ll find. It’ll be through the roof,” he said. “They’ll come in your house, and it becomes a kind of ‘ant from hell’ scenario.”
Suiter said once an ant species gets established, it’s “really hard to dislodge them.”
Not Argentine ants
He expects Georgians to confuse the tawny crazy ant with Argentine ants. Like Argentine ants, the tawny crazy ant travels indoors in search of food and water. It doesn’t sting like a fire ant, but it probably has a mild bite, he said. The ant also is capable of spraying small quantities of formic acid, which may irritate some individuals.
About one-eighth-of-an-inch long, tawny crazy ants are slightly larger in size than Argentine ants and have erratic foraging patterns. Argentine ants are dark brown in color, slightly smaller and do not move as fast or as erratically.
“We will probably get a lot of reports that people have it when they really have Argentine ants. Those are sugar ants—the ones you see in trails,” he said.
Suiter describes dead tawny crazy ants as looking like snowdrifts. “They can be inches deep in a pile,” he said. “When they get up and going, the numbers that die will be in the tens of thousands in and around a structure.”
Likely came to U.S. through a port
Like many non-native, invasive species, no one knows exactly how the ant came to the U.S. or how it made its most recent trip to the Peach State. “It probably came into the U.S., initially, from several Florida ports and one in Mississippi and one in Galveston,” Suiter said. He thinks the ant may have hitched a ride on a plant brought into the state from a region where the tawny crazy ant is already established.
Back in Albany, Morgan says the director of the assisted living facility had no knowledge of anyone traveling to any of those regions.
To discourage the new ant species and other pests from entering a home, Morgan recommends searching for and sealing any cracks around doors and windows. Due to large populations, the tawny crazy ant typically requires a pest management professional.
To verify the presence of tawny crazy ants, take a sample to the nearest UGA Extension office. For office locations, call 1-800-ASKUGA1 or see extension.uga.edu.