SAN ANTONIO — The Texas AgriLife Extension Service is again working to help Texas residents manage one of the most prevalent and least popular insects in the state.
During the second week of September, designated statewide as Fire Ant Awareness Week, AgriLife Extension experts will spread the word - along with lots of ant bait - to help control this perpetual Texas pest.
“Fire Ant Awareness Week was made official statewide more than 10 years ago and fire ant awareness efforts are still going strong,” said Molly Keck, AgriLife Extension integrated pest management specialist for Bexar County.
Keck said the week was established as a means of helping Texas residents realize the importance of fall treatment for fire ants.
“Most people only think about treating for fire ants in the spring, but its equally important to treat for them in the fall to keep them from returning the following spring,” she said.
According to the Texas Imported Fire Ant Research and Management Project, the impact of red imported fire ants in the state of Texas is estimated at about $1.2 billion annually.
The project’s Web site notes that red imported fire ants can pose a serious health threat to plants and animals, and that the project’s goal is “to find effective methods to eliminate this invasive species as a major economic and medical pest.”
As part of awareness efforts, Keck will be presenting a fire ant program from 2-4 p.m. on Sept. 10 at the AgriLife Extension office in Bexar County, 3355 Cherry Ridge Dr., Suite 208. The program will address fire ant biology, the results of current research on fire ants and fire ant management tactics for homeowners.
One of the most effective large-scale fire ant management methods identified by the project and AgriLife Extension integrated pest management specialists statewide has been coordinated community fire ant management efforts.
“Integrated pest management specialists in urban counties work with homeowners associations, property management companies and others to coordinate pest control activities in various subdivisions,” said Elizabeth “Wizzie” Brown, AgriLife Extension integrated pest management specialist for Travis County.
Fire ant control is more effective when homeowners commit to treat their yards at the same time so fire ants can’t relocate and build fresh mounds in a neighbor’s yard, she said.
“While people in South and South Central Texas in particular haven’t seen as many fire ant mounds or as much fire ant activity lately due to the drought, just because they’re out of sight doesn’t mean they’ve disappeared,” Brown said.
She said while fire ants have gone underground during the drought to escape the heat and find moisture, they will return to the surface and build mounds as soon as the area receives enough rain.
“Along with helping reduce fire ant population during the next spring, fall treatment more immediately reduces fire ant numbers, which is important because fire ants in Texas are typically active through the month of November,” she said.
On Sept. 12, Brown will be helping coordinate a semi-annual community-wide fire ant management program in the Wood Glen community of Round Rock, north of Austin.
“I’ll be working with two of the neighborhood leaders to do a bait hand-out and to answer questions and provide technical expertise on how and where to treat,” she said. “This will be the fourth year the program has been held in that subdivision, and it has been very successful.”
The Wood Glen community consists of more than 250 acres, 60 acres of which is greenbelt or flood plain area, according to Samuel Myers, the community’s modification committee chairman.
Myers said only five of the community’s 550 homeowners have opted out of the fire ant management program.
“We pass out appropriate quantities of bait for homeowners who choose to participate, typically about 150 to 200 families,” he said. “They receive the bait and a hand-held spreader, along with information, including an informational pamphlet on fire ants and instructions on how to apply the pesticide.”
Myers said he estimates the overall reduction in fire ants in the community to be about 90 percent and noted that only a few ant mounds have reappeared on the subdivision’s greenbelt area, a section which previously had a significant fire ant problem.
Another recommendation of the fire and research and management project is the use of the “Texas Two-Step” approach to fire ant control, said Dr. Bart Drees, AgriLife Extension statewide fire ant specialist.
The first step involves broadcasting fire ant bait over an entire yard, using a hand-held seed spreader or a larger spreader for more spacious yards and landscapes.
The technique is most useful when there are five or more ant mounds per one-quarter acre or the equivalent of more than 20 mounds per acre, Drees said.
“Broadcasting will typically take care of 80 to 90 percent of the mounds, then you need to treat the remaining mounds,” he said.
The second step of the two-step process involves applying bait to individual mounds, particularly those next to building foundations and high-traffic areas.
“But remember to read labels carefully before buying bait,” Drees said. “This will help you determine if the product is effective against fire ants and will guide you on where to use it and how much to use.”
He added that it is best to apply ant bait during temperatures between 65 degrees to 95 degrees as this is the range when fire ants typically come out to forage.
Drees said the project uses other methods of fire ant control, including the use of phorid flies.
“The phorid fly is a biological control and we have been establishing colonies of them throughout the state,” he said. “They have been growing and spreading, and over time we expect there to be populations all over Texas.”
Drees said further information on statewide fire ant research and control can be found at the project’s Web site, http://fireants.tamu.edu/ .