Why You Should Survey for Little Fire Ants.

Little Fire Ants can live with you for up to 6 months undetected. By the time you notice them they are usually well established on your property. Surveys help you identify hot spots and see the real extent of the infestation. The Hawaii Ant Lab (HAL) has a great how to guide. Here is a example of what a survey can look like. 

Example of what and initial survey for Little Fire Ants would look like.

Initial LFA Survey

Begin by placing bait sticks with peanut butter around the property. Their locations are marked in blue on the map.

After 30 to 45 minutes, collect the bait sticks and the ant samples. Each spot is given an initial rating from 0 to 10.  Zero, meaning there were no suspected ants and ten, being a full infestation of suspected LFA.

Third Party Testing

The ant samples can be taken to the Hawaii Ant Lab (HAL), for identification. It’s important to have them ID’d under a microscope. There are about ten (10) look-a-like ant species. Little Fire Ants require a unique and time intensive treatment method. It’s important to be 100% sure you are dealing with them and not another commonly mistaken species before beginning treatment.

Look-a-Like Little Fire Ants

Can you tell WHICH ONE OF THESE ARE THE REAL LITTLE FIRE ANTS? The Hawaii Ant Lab has a Quick Field Guide, if you’d like to learn more about ant identification. To answer the question, the first picture has the look-a-likes. They are the Pheidole Morens species. The second picture has the Little Fire Ants, also known as Wasmannia Auropunctata. These pictures were taken with an iPhone, using a 10x macro lens. The ants are still too small to see some of the defining features. You need a microscope and a trained eye to positively ID them.


Midyear LFA Survey

Whether you opted to treat little fire ants on your own or have us provide the service, you’ll want to do another survey.

Why another survey?

If you have followed the Hawaii Ant Lab’s treatment plans you will have been using the Tango Gel Bait for the first part of your treatment plan. Depending on your property type you may be able to use a faster acting treatment method for the second half of the year. Tango is an Insect Growth Regulator (IGR). This pesticide DOES NOT KILL the ants. It works by reducing/stopping the queen’s egg production. Any eggs that she does lay, will not develop into adults. This is also true for any larvae that are fed the Tango Gel Bait.

Because worker ants live around three (3) to four (4) months, you are essentially waiting for them to die from natural causes and have less or no new ants to replace them. This means you will not notice a difference right away. Your midyear survey will be a great way to see that your patience is paying off.

How to do a midyear survey

There are places Little Fire Ants like to live and then there are less common areas. To get an accurate reading, it’s important to test the same spots the same way you did in the initial survey.

In this example survey you can see the initial reading is in orange and closest to the blue dot. The reading from the midyear survey is the second closest number, in purple.

In addition to less worker ants you should see some queens for the first time. The lack of worker ants forces the queens to come out and forage for themselves. This is a good sign!

If for some reason you are not seeing a large reduction in LFA here are a few common causes for less than ideal results.

Final Survey

Congratulations! You’ve made it through the long haul. This survey is extremely important. Once again, it’s still important to survey the same locations as in the first and midyear survey for accurate readings. The final survey needs to go a little further though.

LFA do not smell things; they bump into things. They communicate their findings to the other workers via pheromones. Depending on the property type and brush density, you may even want to add a few more bait sticks for this final survey. And instead of waiting 30-45 minutes, you want to wait a full hour.

If there are any LFA remaining on your property you want to give them extra time to bump into the bait. Remember, an LFA colony can fully recover in eight (8) to ten (10) weeks. This final survey will determine whether you are truly ready to go into maintenance mode or if you’ll need to continue your LFA treatment a little longer.

Next Steps

Now that you’ve completed your first treatment plan, you’ll want to ensure you never have to start from scratch again. Little Fire Ants will always be a problem on the Big Island but they don’t have to be a big part of your life.

If you’ve cleared your property of LFA you’ll want to keep it that way and detect LFA early on if they ever do make it back onto your property. This is what we call Maintenance Mode.

If you still have a few spots with LFA on your property at the end of the treatment plan, don’t just toss is the towel and call it quits. You’re almost there. There can be a handful of reasons why you still have LFA after treating for a year. Each property is unique and has their own set of challenges. Be sure to review the common causes for less than ideal results. If you have decided to do the treatment plan on your own and it hasn’t proven to be as successful as you may have hoped, it may be wise to consult the Hawaii Ant Lab or invite us to come take a look at your property and review your treatment methods. Be sure to keep records of your treatment dates, methods and the weather of each treatment date. This will help identify any areas that could be improved upon.