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New Attractant and Repellent to Target Pest Ants

By Tara Weaver-Missick
May 19, 1999

A new attractant and repellent mean double trouble for pest ants, including fire ants that infest southern states and are now showing up in California.

Many commercially available baits have oil or sugar-based formulas that attract either oil-loving or sugar-loving ants--but not both. The new patent-pending attractant, developed by Agricultural Research Service researchers, is attractive to multiple ant species. It can be used in combination with water-soluble toxicants to create a bait. This attractant degrades easily and has little environmental impact.

ARS entomologists conducted studies showing that the bait attracted imported fire ants, Argentine ants, Pharaoh ants, little black ants, carpenter ants, ghost ants, big-headed ants, little fire ants, acrobat ants and crazy ants. Many of these pest ants are problems both indoors and outdoors, and cause either agricultural, structural or other damage.

ARS scientists are also using this attractant for routine monitoring of pest ants with Department of Defense and integrated pest management researchers.

The ant repellent, developed by ARS scientists, is a much-needed alternative to insecticides. Many regulations limit or ban insecticides for controlling insects, especially in populated areas. This repellent relies on chemical scents repugnant to ants, discouraging them from entering certain areas or forcing them to leave. It also reduces reliance on insecticides.

The patent-pending repellent should be useful against the red imported fire ant and several other pest ants in the United States. In addition, the repellent could potentially be effective against pest ants in other parts of the world such as leaf-cutting ant species that can defoliate an entire citrus tree overnight, which are problematic in central South America.

ARS is the primary research agency for the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Scientific contact: David F. Williams and David H. Oi, ARS Center for Medical, Agricultural, and Veterinary Entomology, Gainesville, Fla., phone (352) 374-5903, fax (352) 374-5818,,