Let Them Eat Bait!

Let Them Eat Bait!

Feeding habits change depending on the time of year and the evolving needs of the colony. Gaining insight into the feeding habits of the ant colonies you’ve encountered helps you prescribe the right treatment protocol.

September 30, 2015

Gaining insight into the feeding habits of the ant colonies you’ve encountered helps you prescribe the right treatment protocol. It’s important to remember that feeding behaviors change with the time of year, the evolving needs of the colony and the availability of various food sources. In spring and early summer, for example, developing larvae in the colony require large amounts of protein, so ants scavenge and prey upon arthropods. Later in the summer, the colony seeks carbohydrates to optimize energy levels.
 
Of course the species makes a difference, too, so identifying the type of ant you’re dealing with is paramount to management success. It’s true that most ants are carnivores that feed on a wide variety of foods. But their preferences differ. For instance, shares Dr. Philip Koehler of the University of Florida, the best baits for imported fire ants use oils (especially soybean oil) as the main attractant, although these ants have also been known to feed on honeydew, sugars, proteins, seeds, plants and insects. Pharaoh ants enjoy sugars, proteins, oils and insects. Crazy ants like sugars, protein and insects. And carpenter ants prefer sugars and insects. “Sometimes changing from sugar-based baits to protein or oil-based baits may be important in maintaining the ants’ interest,” he says.
 
Jackie Thornton of Alvin Pest Control says that satisfying the taste preferences of tawny crazy ants is a real challenge in Texas. “Although we’ve tried multiple baits on multiple occasions with Rasberry crazy ants, we have just not yet found a bait that is a viable alternative for controlling these ants. Rover, ghost and other sweet-feeding ants typically take sweet liquid baits pretty consistently,” he says.
 
Ants’ feeding preferences can also help PMPs determine where to treat, Thornton adds. “With sweet-feeding ants, we target our treatments at their food sources,” he says. “Rover ants will feed on the honeydew of plants, often at the root level. We identify these nesting areas and target treat the potted plant and soil areas to eliminate these colonies.”
 
When it’s not clear which bait the ants prefer at a given moment in time, prebaiting can save time and effort. Dabs of peanut butter (protein), jelly or honey (sugar), ground insects (crickets or mealworms) and oils on the back of a piece of masking tape, an index card or a short length of a plastic straw will help you determine which type of food appeals most strongly to the colony. Prebaiting can also help you identify areas of heaviest activity and even provide clues to nest location (read “Hot on the Trail”).