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Question: What’s the best way to eliminate ants outside A structure to avoid inside treatment?

Chelle Hartzer: As you know, this is a complicated question because it will depend on the species of ants, where they are, even what time of year it might be. For example, fire ants are fairly easy to eliminate if you target all the mounds with a labeled pesticide. Of course, finding all those mounds might be tricky. In general, you can use a perimeter liquid treatment around a structure to prevent most ants from entering. I would also suggest a granular bait in addition to the liquid. This way, foraging ants pick up the bait and transfer it back to the colony. You stop ants at the foundation of the building with the liquid and keep colonies small with the bait.

Another consideration is how often you need to treat. In warmer months in areas with heavy ant pressure, you may consider treating monthly. If accounts are every other month or quarterly, you can consider an add-on service.

Q: How can I predict how much bait to use if I can’t find any ants?

CH: Two things to consider: No. 1, can you not find any ants because there aren’t any ants? No. 2, can you not find any ants because the customer cleaned up?

If it’s the first case, maybe you don’t need pesticides. Talk with the customer about conducive conditions and continue preventing ants and other pests. If it is the second case, you will have to find what areas the customer was seeing them in. You will also want to look for the conducive conditions (food, mostly) the ants may be utilizing. Then, follow the label for placement amounts in those key areas where ants were noticed.

To answer this question in a slightly different way: If you can’t find ants, there may be a better treatment method. Consider some targeted spot treatments with a liquid residual inside to key areas you have concerns in. Also, perform a thorough inspection of the outside, particularly around the foundation to eliminate any outdoor issues.

Q: How do we get more buy-in from customers?

CH: This is the million-dollar question! My recommendation has three steps:

Communicate after the service and let the customer know what you did, what you saw and what they can do. Document your service and conducive conditions and leave them a copy.

Follow up again. Most customers (and PMPs, too!) are busy and have a dozen things on their minds. They might not remember what you told them right after the service. Follow up with a fact sheet, remind them of what you did, reiterate what they should be doing and give them any other means of communication that you can think of.

Before your follow-up visit, ask them what’s happening. Then you have info on where the problem areas may be. It also subtly reminds your customer that you did your part, you are continuing to do your part and they need to do their part.

This may seem a little silly, but repetition is retention. The more you text, email, call or write to them, the more they will remember and hopefully do the things you need them to do. Admittedly, this won’t work with every customer — there are always those customers who will never be good partners.

Q: If a customer has ants in their kitchen, and you were unable to locate the colony and the customer wanted quick relief, what would be the best option?

CH: Targeted bait treatments in key areas, especially along foraging trails, will be a great starting point. This way, the ants can take the bait back to the colony, share with all their friends and eliminate the colony for you.

As you know, baits are somewhat slow acting. They need to be so the ants have time to feed on them and take them back to the colony. Despite that, if enough bait is used (per label regulations, of course), I find it can significantly reduce ants in about a day.

If you need something faster than that, glueboards can be strategically placed to capture ants away from the customer’s view. It also helps if the customer cleans up any food sources they may be using and seals openings where the ants could be coming in from outside.

This may be more about setting customer expectations (“The bait will take a day or two for full effectiveness.”) rather than promising immediate relief.

Q: In case of failure, how does one know if it’s the product not working or if the technician did not perform a proper application?

CH: This is a great question! There are a few reasons why a treatment may fail and application error can be part of that. Sometimes product isn’t applied to the right areas, enough product (bait, in particular) may not have been used or it could have been the wrong product.

There are other factors to consider:

  • Customers can sometimes apply their own products that can interfere with ours. They also may clean after applications, which can totally remove what was put down. They could have cleaned trailing ants and the ants have made new pathways around the treatments.
  • Some species may have satellite colonies (carpenter ants). Others may bud (Pharaoh ants) or have multi-queen colonies (Argentine ants). The treatment may have gotten to one part of the colony but not all of it.
  • Maybe there’s a new problem. Sometimes, eliminating one problem still leaves others. It could be that other species are nearby but were pushed back by the first ant problem.

This is where documentation comes in. A properly documented treatment should show what was done, where it was done and how much was applied.

With good training and good documentation, you can eliminate application errors from the equation and focus on other aspects that may be impacting a successful treatment.

Q: Why do some species prefer sugars over carbs?

CH: Carbohydrates are sugars along with some fiber and starch. Ants are primarily after one of three things: sugars, proteins and fats.

Depending on what the carb is, it may have had a higher sugar content or maybe there is some protein or amino acid the ants were after.

This brings up a good point: Different species have different preferences. It also depends on the time of the year because when ant colonies have brood to feed, adults are out foraging for protein to feed to the developing larvae.

Other times they are just feeding adults and are after more sugar-based sources. It’s important to correctly identify the ant species and match its food preference to the bait you are using.

As long as you are following the labels, nothing prevents you from using more than one type of bait when treating ants.

Q: What is the easiest way, without a magnifying device, to determine the difference between little black ants, odorous house ants and thief ants?

CH: Ummm…send them to someone with a magnifying device? All of us have phones that can be used for some magnification. If you can get a good picture that is zoomed in, you may be able to see some of the distinguishing features you need for a definitive ID.

 

 

Without that, you can use the “crush test.” Crush a few of the ants, and if it smells like blue cheese, it is likely odorous house ants. If not, you are left with little black or thief ant. Little black are typically black while thief ants are usually a bit lighter brown.

 

Q: We need more info on life cycles of ants and the best way of controlling them. (OK, that’s not a question.)

CH: Training is so important! NPMA has ant-specific training guides on its website. PCT has an entire book (“Field Guide for the Management of Structure-Infesting Ants”) on the topic.

Many universities also offer courses on ants. While you’re at it, you should also check out your state and regional pest management conferences.

If they don’t have ant talks on the program, make sure to tell them and hopefully they will get some on the agenda the next time around.

Chelle Hartzer is a Board Certified Entomologist at 360 Pest and Food Safety Consulting (www.chellehartzer.com). If you have other ant questions, email her at chellehartzer360@gmail.com .