SAN ANTONIO – Does neighborhood-wide fire ant treatment work?
“Yes, no question about it,” said Nathan Riggs, a Texas Cooperative Extension agent who has been helping San Antonio neighborhoods battle fire ants since 1998.
From 1998 to 2002, Riggs worked closely with four San Antonio neighborhoods to promote the neighborhood treatments. The Two-Step Method of fire ant control, broadcast-applying Amdro Fire Ant Bait, was used in place of individual ant mound treatments.
Among the results:
* Fire ant pesticide costs dropped 80 percent to 90 percent, from between $20 to $59 per household to $5 for participants in neighborhood programs.
* Fire ant mounds were reduced by 96 percent, from an average of 5 mounds in a typical yard to 0.2 per yard.
* Participating neighborhoods broadcast a total of 555 pounds of fire ant bait annually, versus nearly 2 tons of insecticide granules and drenches in a comparable number of houses where the mounds were treated individually.
According to Riggs, the neighborhood-wide treatment for fire ants benefits the environment by decreasing the amount of pesticides, which run down gutters and pollute streams and ground water.
Also, he added, fire ant bait degrades in the soil because it has a lower active ingredient and is made from defatted corn grits and soybean oil. It is also less toxic to birds, pets and people than granular or liquid insecticide, which is used when fire ant mounds are treated individually. And, it has no effect on other insects.
So, with all the benefits to neighborhood treatment, has it caught on?
“I think more neighborhoods haven’t taken advantage of this approach,” said Riggs, “because neighborhood leadership is not always cohesive. Local politics get in the way, and some neighborhoods are just not close-knit. In some cases, homeowner associations include both renters and owners, and lack of common goals leads to lack of participation.
“The neighborhoods where the programs have worked,” he said. “are the ones that are close-knit, and the homeowners know each other.
“The other big obstacle was communication,” he said. “People in the neighborhoods may not read the community newsletter or follow other communication efforts. In some neighborhoods we were reaching 20 people out of 187 homes.”
Still, says Riggs, if a neighborhood is too big an undertaking, residents can get good results if they just organize the neighbors on their block or on their street.
“Even a block of five-10 homes can effect change,” said Riggs “The larger the treated area, the longer it takes the ants to come back, because you get as many ant colonies as possible, with up to 98 percent control when you broadcast, or widely spread, the fire ant bait.”
And though Riggs’s fire ant management program is winding down next fall, he encourages neighborhood leaders to try the joint projects this spring. They can access information for these programs on fact sheet #15 at Texas A&M’s fire ant website, http://fireant.tamu.edu/materials/factsheets/FAPFS015.2002rev.pdf.
In the meantime, said Riggs, he and his colleagues in other urban areas are taking fire ant education to elementary schools and 4-H clubs.
“In 2001 we developed six lessons for children in third to fifth grade, and in 2002 we added activity to the lessons and named the course KIDzANTS,” he said.
“We teach the kids where the ants come from, body structure, life cycle, food sources, and what happens in the fire ant mound. They take this broad learning home to the parents, and the parents understand the ants better through the children.”
The fire ant curriculum is provided to the schools as activity to blend in with TEKS objectives. Riggs noted that the school curriculum program will help bring the entomologists’ work to the mainstream and provide continuity when the neighborhood program ends. The curriculum pilot started in January with two classes of fifth graders at Will Rogers Elementary. Other pilots are currently finishing in Houston and Austin.
The program is also working with landscape programs targeting retail employees in order to teach proper use of pesticides. Researching is also being conducted on the use of natural enemies of the fire ant.