Before you start applying any kind or treatment make sure to survey your property first. Simply take a chopstick, popsicle stick, etc. and smear a tiny amount of peanut butter (cheap stuff is best) at the end of it. Place the stick around your property (don’t poke it into the ground – lay it flat) and wait 30-60 minutes.
Little fire ants don’t build underground nests, and prefer to hide in nooks that provide a little shade and moisture. They don’t need much space, so look around for any areas that fit the description. Examples of ideal stick placement areas:
- Crooks of trees
- Border of house and property
- Rock walls
- Potted plants
- Palm trees/ti plants/bananas (place sticks as close as you can to where the leaves meet the stems)
- Areas of debris (piles of palm fronds, unused building materials, old potting supplies, etc.)
- Mossy areas
If you need to do a very thorough survey to determine the extent of infestation, the recommended spacing is 10 feet apart, in a grid formation. Carefully track where each stick is from when you pick them up, to determine the range of the infestation.
Found ants? Not sure if they’re LFA? Freeze them in a plastic bag and bring them or mail them to us!
23 E Kawili St
Hilo, HI 96720
2. Treatment: Choosing a Bait
Once you have confirmed that you have an LFA infestation, it’s time to treat. Always use a bait for LFA. Queens are hidden away by the dozens and even hundreds, and will not be reached by standard contact insect-killer pesticides. You need to get the workers to work for you, carrying the bait back to the queens.
To achieve complete control of LFA, you must treat every 4 to 6 weeks for at least a year (sometimes 18 months in more heavily infested areas). Too soon and the ants become bait shy and don’t eat it, too spread out and the colony has a chance to recover. Your goal is not to apply bait forever – your goal is to get the ant population on your property to zero, and then concentrate on monitoring and using border products to prevent the ants from coming back.
What should I use?
Your landscape, environment, budget, and ability level will all be factors in choosing a bait. While there may be a bait that is more “ideal” for your landscape, if your budget does not allow you to purchase it, then go with what you can afford. It is better to treat with a less ideal product (as long as you commit to using it every 4-6 weeks!) than it is to live in misery with fire ants. There are two main “types” of bait: gel bait and granular bait.
Gel Bait – A small amount of pesticide is mixed with ant-attractive foods into a yogurt-like consistency. This bait is ideal for tall trees, heavy vegetation, and very rainy areas. The gel bait formulation was developed by the Hawaii Ant Lab specifically for the environment and needs of Hawaii. (See our Helpful Links Page for detailed recipes and a how-to video for mixing.)
Granular Bait- Granulars are easiest, because they are ready-to-use baits. These are corn grits soaked in oil and a bit of pesticide. These types of baits are good for open areas, low trees, and well-spaced vegetation. They don’t handle moisture well, so best used when the ground is reasonably dry. Granular baits have a short shelf life: once opened they become ineffective in 2-3 months. Use quickly or share with a neighbor!
Our approach: Ideally, we recommend treatment with the Tango gel bait for the first six months, then a toxicant bait (Provaunt gel bait, a granular bait, or a combination) for the last 6 months. Again, while this is ideal, it is not the “only” way to treat for fire ants. Your personal situation will influence your approach, and that’s OK.
Selecting the ideal product for your landscape:
- What if I have many fruit trees or edible plants?
If you have fruit trees your best bet is to use Tango (methoprene) in a gel bait. Apply 1 gallon per acre (4 Zep bottles). Tango is an insect growth regulator. It causes the queen to become sterile so she can’t lay eggs. You won’t notice an effect immediately as the workers need to die off on their own (workers have a lifespan of 3-4 months). Tango by itself (unmixed) has a long shelf life.
Altrevin and Siesta granular baits can also be used on citrus, stone, and pome fruits. Read the label before applying.
- What if I have a lot of vegetation or tall trees (non-edible)?
For tall trees and hedges, a gel bait is still the best option. You can use Tango, or a toxicant, Provaunt (indoxocarb). Provaunt comes as a powder, and like Tango must be mixed into a gel bait to become attractive to the ants. Provaunt (unmixed) has a long shelf life.
- What about lawn, light landscaping, well-spaced vegetation, lots of open area?
Flat open areas are easily treated with a granular bait. There are numerous granular baits that you can purchase. Some of the brands we recommend are: Amdro (hydromethylnon), Siesta(metaflumizone), Maxforce Complete(metaflumizone), Extinguish Pro.
- What if the ants are inside my house?
Ants prefer to be outside, so first you want to use a barrier treatment around your foundation and entries to see if that stops the ant activity inside your house. If you still have significant fire ants after that, they may be nesting inside your house. Sprinkle some granular bait inside a bait station (a bait station can be as simple as a soda bottle cap or small piece of PVC) and place where you notice ants – places with water, like the kitchen and bathroom, tend to be preferred. It is important to scoop up the bait stations and clean them out the next day, and don’t put bait down again for about 4 weeks.
More detail about each product can be found here. It is OK to use a combination of bait products, applying different products to different areas as appropriate.
3. Applying your Bait
No matter what product you choose, plan to apply your treatment every 4-6 weeks for a year. On the first day you treat, sit down and enter the projected dates into your written or digital calendar, because this is the most important step! We recommend planning to treat every 5 weeks, so that if there is heavy rain or an unexpected event at week 5, you still have an extra week to stay in the window. It is best to apply your bait on a dry day, as much as possible. The gel bait can stand up to light rains, but heavy Hilo rains may be cause for postponement.
On rainy days, the ants are less likely to be active. Try to apply when it appears the ants will have at least 4 hours of dry weather to pick up the bait. If the bait washes away after that – good! You don’t need (and really don’t want) your bait accessible for more than a few hours.
Make sure to always follow the instructions on the label, and wear long pants, long sleeves, and gloves when applying pesticides.
Gel bait application: When spraying trees aim for the trunk and the larger branches; this is where the ants are most likely to be moving up and down the tree. But don’t stop at the trees! Apply the gel bait to rest of your property too – rock walls, palm trees, grasses. Focus on vegetated spots. Use a sweeping, arc motion when spraying to create streams/drops of gel bait. The main idea is to cover your property in hundreds of speckles of bait. Keep in mind: ants don’t smell! They accidentally wander into the bait. This is why we don’t recommend bait stations – the more coverage, the better. Make sure to spray along your border, around your house (avoid the structure itself, as the oil in the bait can stain paint), and other areas where you found ants in your survey. Once mixed the gel bait will only be good for about 24 hours.
Granular bait application: No mixing required, they’re ready to go. Sprinkle lightly throughout the property. Avoid applying to wet ground or in the rain, as granulars can spoil quickly when they become wet and will be unattractive to the ants. Don’t worry if the granulars are still around later – the ants are liquid feeders and will “suck” what they need, not carry the grits back to the nest. Read the label to determine how much to apply, as each product may be slightly different.
4. Assessing your results: Month 7
Between treatments 6 and 7, we recommend that you survey again with peanut butter sticks to determine how successful your treatment is. Notice where the heaviest concentrations of ants are – you may need to apply double the bait in those areas. Perhaps you notice a lot of ants along a border with another property – it could be time to talk to your neighbor about getting involved, or simply note the area as being a likely place for a barrier application when your treatment effort is complete. Hopefully by this point you will notice decreased little fire ant density, other species of ants and insects returning, and much fewer stings!
If you started with the 6 months of Tango treatment, this is also the time when we recommend switching to a toxicant bait to wipe the colony out. If you feel more comfortable sticking with Tango (or still have lots left and don’t want to pay for another product), that’s fine! Continue to treat every 4-6 weeks as you have. Tango may take a bit longer but eventually, you will starve out the queens.
5. Moving to Monitoring: 12-18 months
Continue to survey with peanut butter sticks every couple of months until you get no ants or are picking up ants only along a border. Treat 1-2 more times (on the 4-6 week schedule) and resurvey before stopping bait treatment. Don’t stop scheduled bait treatments until you’ve had two surveys (spaced a least a month apart) come up with zero LFA! (There are small orange lookalikes, so if you are unsure, bring the ants to us for ID). If you didn’t use the “ideal” bait approach, it may take longer than 12 months to get to zero – or you may end up with a recurring hotspot even if you most of your property becomes fire-ant free. Call us if you need some help brainstorming how to handle a problem area.
If you have ants along a border, you will need to begin applying a barrier treatment to prevent re-infestation from that side. It is also critical that you quarantine all incoming materials to your property, and that you survey every three months with peanut butter sticks to catch any new LFA “hot spots” and quickly extinguish them by applying a bait.
If you follow these steps, you can live fire-ant free!