Apply Bait When Fire Ants Are Foraging

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Red imported fire ants are finding their way to Caldwell County. Soon you may have them on your property. Although there are several ways to control these pests, baits are often the best and most effective option.

Fire ant bait is a food source laced with an insecticide. Fire ants like fatty foods. The commercial ant food used for fire ant baits is corn grits coated with soybean oil. The ant poison mixed with the food varies by manufacturer and determines where the bait can be applied.

Ant baits take advantage of the colony’s foraging ability. Controlling ants with a bait is a trojan horse approach. The bait is something the foraging fire ants recognize as food. They take the bait back to the colony, then the bait is distributed throughout the colony from ant to ant exchange. This exchange is a process known as trophallaxis. One key to the efficiency of baits is that the insecticide gets to the queen. Although several fire ant baits are available, there are two main types of poisons used in fire ant baits. There are insect growth regulators (IGRs) and actual toxins.

Extinguish Plus is an example of a combination bait. This product contains both an IGR and a toxin. The toxin is a slow acting stomach poison called hydramethylnon. The IGR is a very common chemical called methoprene.

When more than a couple of mounds are present, broadcast bait treatments are less expensive and quicker than individual mound treatments. Broadcast treatments also control colonies when mounds are not yet visible.

Although broadcast bait treatments are less expensive and quicker, there are a few things that are essential for good results:

  • Use fresh bait, preferably from an unopened container or one that has been tightly sealed and not stored for long periods (most labels suggest using within three to six months after opening).
  • Do not disturb mounds before bait application.
  • Apply bait when the ground and grass are dry and rain is not expected for the next 12 to 24 hours.
  • Apply bait when foraging ants are actively searching for food.

The last item in this list “apply bait when ants are foraging” is essential. If the ants are not foraging (searching for food), the bait will “go bad” and will not be taken into the colony. Fire ants like fresh food. If the bait gets wet or even damp, it will no longer be of interest by foraging ants.

The good news is determining foraging activity is easy. Place a potato chip near an active mound. If ants are seen on the chip within 10 to 30 minutes, it’s a good time to apply bait. Ants are less active during cold and hot periods. They prefer temperatures between 70°F and 85°F.

Always, always, always read and follow the label instructions of the fire ant bait. Most fire ant bait can be applied in residential, recreational, and landscaped areas. However, only a few baits are labeled for use in agricultural areas such as cropland, pastures, orchards, and vegetable gardens. If you need to make an application to an agricultural field, look for the product names Extinguish, Esteem, and Safer Fire Ant Baits. These baits are the only ones labeled for use in home gardens, pastures, or cropland.

As always, if you have questions about fire ant control or any other agricultural questions, please contact the Caldwell Extension Center (828-757-1290) or visit us online at