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Liquid. Gel. Granular. With so many options, how do pest management professionals decide which ant bait to use?
“We never know what one particular ant species might want to forage on,” said Scott Robbins, ACE and technical services manager of Action Pest Control, Evansville, Ind. “The other difficult thing is, you end up with seasonal variations.”
That’s why Action Pest Control uses a variety of baits. In spring, colonies need protein to feed larvae as they reproduce. Later, he said, sugar and liquid baits work. But with some species, such as the Pharaoh ant, “You almost have to throw everything at them,” he said.
In choosing an ant bait, Jim Harmon, owner of California Pest Management, La Verne, Calif., said the technician must “first find out what they’re feeding on.” If aphids are the food source, for example, let the ant find a sweet bait before it finds the aphid.
Daniel D. Dye II, Associate Certified Entomologist Emeritus, and retired training coordinator at Florida Pest Control in Gainesville, Fla., noted that inside nesting is uncommon for most pest ants, though if ants are inside, perhaps in the kitchen, “It’s usually best not to apply bait near that location, you will just attract more ants inside.”
He suggested applying bait in cracks and crevices on nearby exterior walls to that ants feed there.
“The ants in the interior will eventually get the message that there’s bait on the outside and stop traveling inside,” he said. “To take it to the next step, apply a light mist of your favorite non-repellent product on the outside ants feeding on the bait.”
Dye recommended testing baits, placing them on index cards in different spots near the trail, but using small amounts that won’t go rancid before ants find it.
The Mallis Handbook of Pest Control suggests including each of the three food attractants used in commercial baits – proteins, carbohydrates and oils – in a choice test to determine what ants prefer.
When ants take the bait, follow them to the nest. This takes patience, but finding and treating the nest with a synthetic pyrethroid is “a sure-fire way to get them under control,” said Dye.
Harmon said, “Ask the question, ‘why are they here?’” Understanding the target species, its food source and point of entry can help address a problem, he said, sometimes without treatment. For example, service providers can trim trees and shrubs touching the structure or caulk entry points, adding outside baits if necessary.
Dye cited a similar approach, suggesting that technicians treat nearby shrubbery for scale insects that produce honeydew on which large-scale and other ants may feed. He said that technicians “can actually take care of a problem without even applying a drop of product” if they know the ant’s biology and habits.
When product is necessary, Robbins said some formulations offer advantages, noting workers have limited ability to share liquids and some gels, while granular baits and other gels enable workers carve off a piece of product to share in the nest.
Though, as Robbins said, “The big secret to ant control is just follow up and make sure you close the loop.” PMPs who ensure customer satisfaction are usually rewarded.
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