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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

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Objectives, Methods and Goal
USDA Agricultural Research Services Web site on area wide suppression of fire ants.


Pustules caused by imported fire ant stings.

Objectives

  1. Release and spread natural enemies for fire ants - decapitating flies and Thelohania fire ant disease.

  2. Integrate use of baits and biological control to provide 80% sustained, areawide reduction of fire ants.

  3. Save at least $4 billion a year in cost of fire ant control and damage for agricultural producers, businesses, homeowners, government and military.

  4. Reduce reliance on repeated applications of insecticide for fire ant control.

  5. Restore ecological balance in the natural environment.

Methods

Cooperating States:
Florida, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Texas

Map of southeast United States showing symbolic elimination of fire ants.

Locations:
Two 300-acre sites of improved pasture in each cooperating state with heavy fire ant infestations

Treatments:

  • Aerially applied mixture of two baits
  • Biological controls — release two organisms that help control fire ants in South America

What will happen:
Fire ant populations are reduced by aerially applying baits to each 300-acre pasture. Biological controls are released around the treated area. They weaken and kill fire ants, allowing native ants to repopulate. This program should provide sustainable control, reducing the need for repeated applications of expensive fire ant treatments.
Aerial photograph of a release site showing the 300 acre target control area where an aerial application of baits was made, plus the release of biological controls around the target site.

Image displaying the two types of baits.
Two Baits:
Baits are a very effective, but expensive, method of controlling existing fire ant colonies. USDA-ARS has worked to make oil-based baits commercially available to the public. Baits do not harm wildlife because they break down in sunlight.

Two baits are combined to provide fast-acting and long-term control of fire ants. Hydramethylnon bait kills ants within three to five days. Methoprene bait sterilizes ant reproductives and prevents larvae from developing normally. Effects are slow, but control lasts for months.

Two Biological Controls:
Biological control organisms kill fire ants in their native South America, but they were only recently brought into the United States. USDA-ARS has imported, isolated, and mass-produced these biological control organisms for release.

Decapitating flies in the genus Pseudacteon attack fire ant workers and cause them to hide instead of feed. Female flies lay eggs that develop inside the fire ant head, causing the head to fall off. Adult flies emerge from the severed head and attack other fire ants.

A fire ant disease, Thelohania solenopsae, is introduced into colonies by putting infected fire ant larvae in the mound. The disease is caused by a protozoan that weakens the colony. Weakened colonies mean fewer fire ant reproductives to start new colonies.

Goal

To demonstrate practical, long-term control of fire ants over a large area using baits and biological controls.

Expected Results

  • Release and spread of biological controls
  • Sustained fire ant control
  • Lower livestock production costs
  • Increased farm worker safety
  • Reduced pesticide risk
  • Restored ecological balance among native ants, birds, and wildlife

Other AWPM's

Areawide Pest Management (AWPM) Programs have proven successful in controlling many other pests. These programs have resulted in:
  • Reduced costs to homeowners/growers
  • Reduced risk to workers
  • Reduced impact on the environment
  • Increased and sustainable control

Examples of other Areawide Programs:


Areawide Suppression of Fire Ants main menu

Last Modified: 11/24/2014
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