Author Topic: Bait & Switch - Fire Ant Only - Targeted Eradication Project  (Read 1231 times)

Offline CharlotteBeeOrganic

  • Global Moderator
  • Member
  • Posts: 19

We have changed the way we are going to undertake our Fire Ant control program. After Wizzie Brown’s talk on Red Imported Fire Ant (RIFA) control, we gratefully accepted her offer to do a broadcast treatment using Spinsad. After initial support, concerns arose. Spinosad is naturally produced by certain bacteria, and is a neurotoxin to many insects and caterpillars. While Spinosad is approved for use in organic gardens, some gardeners were against broadcasting a broad-spectrum pesticide that might kill a lot of non-target insects.

 A “Bait and Switch” program was proposed which would allow us to target only RIFA using a grid of bait stations. This is based on a City Parks RIFA control program implemented by then City Parks Manager Lee Stone and field biologist Mark Sanders. The goal for their program was to target only RIFA, and to leave unaffected all other ants and bugs. These folks are now joining Wizzie Brown for the Bait and Switch Program. This program will need some volunteers, so if you are committed to evicting Fire Ants from the Garden, please contact coordinator Cedar Stevens at 512-701-1239, to volunteer or ask questions.

Here’s how it works: The field biologist team will set survey stakes about every 20 feet, basically at the corners of each plot. This should allow full coverage for all the plots based on what we know the foraging range is for Imported Red Fire Ant

For most of the garden, there should be no need to put the bait station in people's garden plots. The exceptions to this would be where there is no path between plots, especially the section of the garden southeast of the tool shed.

The orange neon flags will be set out about a week before the actual treatment day. The flags will serve as notification to the gardeners where the bait stations will be. There will be notes on the flags letting folks know what the plan is, where to learn more and who to contact if they have questions or concerns. We do think that it is only respectful to give gardeners the right to opt-out, but also educate everyone about the benefits of opting in. If one gardener opts out, we can move the bait station marker into the plot of a gardener who opts in. Please call or email Cedar Stevens if you want to move a bait station out of your plot. The day of treatment is set for May 7th.

With 200+ gardens and the rest of the garden which needs to be baited as well, especially the compost heap area, we will need about 300 bait stations.

On May 7 the Bait and Switch will take place. The leaders will meet with the volunteers and set out the bait at the flagged stations. They will be first baited with hot dog chunks. Then 15 minutes later a sweep is made and if RIFA is attacking the hot dog, the flag marking the bait station gets a red survey ribbon tag. The hot dog chunk is removed gently so as not to alarm the foraging RIFAs. This is how we target only Fire Ants: it takes advantage of Fire Ants' very aggressive nature. Once they arrive at bait, they will not allow any other bug to come near it, and they attack and kill any other ant or insect that makes an attempt.

The bait stations will be checked every 10-15 minutes, and if Fire Ants abandon the station, the Spinosad will be removed to avoid contact with non-target species.
We will request no watering while the Bait and Switch is in progress. The water will be shut off on May 7.  Please plan accordingly.

 In addition to the benefits to the gardeners, effective control or elimination of RIFA will mean relief for butterflies and other beneficial or neutral insects, which will mean more food for birds. We hope that ground nesting birds and other birds that nest close to the ground will be able to return to the garden as well.

We intend to do this treatment at least once or twice each spring and fall, which is considered the best times to attack RIFA. We are hoping to train up a number of SCG gardeners to do this professionally and effectively, targeting only RIFA and using less of the Spinosad. While this sort of program has been successful in park and preserve settings, we don’t know of any large organic community garden has tried this. We hope to become a model for responsible Red Imported Fire Ant control consistent with the letter and spirit of Organic Gardening.

Offline CharlotteBeeOrganic

  • Global Moderator
  • Member
  • Posts: 19
Re: Bait & Switch - Fire Ant Only - Targeted Eradication Project
« Reply #1 on: May 15, 2014, 10:02 AM »

Thanks to everyone who volunteered, and thanks to all the gardeners for their cooperation.
Cedar Stevens

Our first fire ant treatment using the "Bait and Switch" grid system was a mixed bag of results. As with any large-scale field operation, it began a bit "clunky" as we tried to get everyone on the same page of the program, with several experts involved, and working out details on how to deploy our troops.

One major finding is that this large-scale project, over 320 bait stations on a grid system across the whole garden IS DOABLE! With expert help from Wizzie Brown, Mark Sanders, Kunda Wicce, and my own field biology background, our highly competent volunteers Kay McMurray, Ila Falvey, Michael Hall, Jeff Monks, Jennifer, Andy McCauley, Ken Mitchell, Lisa Daugustine, Marilyn Landberg, Suzanne Bradford, Susan Kramer, Gail Rapuano, and Jean Flahive, we were able to set up all these bait stations in less than an hour. Y'ALL ROCK, VOLUNTEERS! Wizzie divided us up into three teams of four, which was exactly how many people it took to do the job in each team's section. The weather was great, and soon we were having fun with the project.

We also found that we do have a good number and population of non-Red Imported Fire Ants, and Mark noted "I did see several bait stations with Monomorium minimum, one with Crematogaster sp, one with Pheidole sp (very small species, really should have collected a few), many with a native species of Nylanderia sp, probably Nylanderia terricola (I know Wizzie collected some), and several with Brachymyrmex sp. Also I saw several blue cheese ants, most likely Forelius mccooki, however, they were not on any of the hot dog baits." This tells us that this RIFA-only treatment program will protect our "good-guy" ants from being poisoned.

Now here was the let-down. After attracting lots of fire ants to the bait stations with hot dog chunks, we switched to the Spinosad poison, and the fire ants would not eat the stuff! Most of the volunteers did note that it smelled like rancid oil.

I spoke with the manufacturer's quality control expert, and he said that the bait should have a slight musty smell, but if it smelled like rancid oil, it was almost certain that the oil in the bait had gone rancid, and that if so, the ants wouldn't have anything to do with the bait. My theory is that even though the bait was pretty new, it gets very hot in the trailer office, where it was being stored, and that the hot days we have had this spring were enough to spoil the Spinosad.

We are now in discussion with the manufacturer, and I will be recommending that we try again using good bait, and after testing to see how best to make the switch.

Offline sharon

  • Member
  • Posts: 13
Re: Bait & Switch - Fire Ant Only - Targeted Eradication Project
« Reply #2 on: May 17, 2014, 07:36 AM »
Would it be possible to target known fire ant mounds also? I know I have at least three, but the bait stations around my plots did not attract the ants on May 7 did not attract the fire ants. Maybe a blue flag for those?

Offline Michael

  • Member
  • Posts: 5
Re: Bait & Switch - Fire Ant Only - Targeted Eradication Project
« Reply #3 on: June 24, 2014, 04:58 PM »
I am glad to see such a thoughful approach to the Fire ant issue, and an understanding that maintaining beneficial ants is a prime way to combat Fire Ant dominance.
A method that I have used in the past to control fire ants is the "texas flood" method...  Take a 5 gallon bucket with the bottom trimmed off, and a layer of vaseline around the inner top, and place or impale it around the fire ant mound.  Pack some wet dirt /mud around the outside perimeter of the bucket, then gently fill it halfway with water, and keep it filled as it leaks out.  The fire ants will float out and create an ant raft where the queen will be rafted to the top.  I first noticed this as a kid when the streets would flood I'd have to watch out for fire ant flotillas when playing in the water! 

Finally, I have also used a similar method to eradicate leaf cutter ants, except I stick the water hose in the ground so as to constantly disrupt their fungal farming ability using water pressure.