New Gel Bait Now Available for Fire Ant Control

Fine but deadly dining awaits pesky ants that sample a new bait gel formulation developed by Agricultural Research Service scientists and a cooperating company.

Waterbury Companies Inc. will sell the new bait gel as Drax NutraBait pending Environmental Protection Agency registration on its use for odorous house-, pavement-, pharaoh-, little black-, ghost-, Argentine-, carpenter- and crazy ants.

ARS and Waterbury recently applied for a joint patent on the bait gel formulation since it is eaten by fire ants, a first for such products, according to Guadalupe Rojas, an entomologist at ARS' Southern Regional Research Center in New Orleans. Rojas and ARS entomologist Juan Morales-Ramos began working on the new formulation there about three years ago to lure the tiny, stinging pests away from bait traps intended to kill Formosan subterranean termites. Both pests are targets of large-scale ARS research and control projects in the Southeast.

Under a cooperative agreement signed in 2002, Waterbury researchers Ligia Hernandez and Jonathan Peters collaborated with the ARS entomologists to refine and adapt the formulation to Waterbury's bait gel specifications. Waterbury indicates it has supplied experimental use samples to university scientists for independent testing in side-by-side comparisons with other products.

ARS' bait gel tests include ongoing, area wide trials at four fire ant-infested sites: ARS-SRRC; the ARS U.S. Small Fruits Research Unit in Poplarville, Miss.; a residential neighborhood in Poplarville; and the Mississippi State University Experiment Station.

Observing and chemically analyzing what the pest likes to eat at different times of the year was critical to the entomologists' development of the bait formulation, which comprises a specific mixture of carbohydrates, lipids and proteins. The final product is a weather-resistant, yellow gel that the ants will eat year-round and that can be squeezed onto both flat and vertical surfaces. It contains 5 percent boric acid, which, in tests, killed fire ant colonies in two months or less, depending on their size and the season.

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