By Steve Bopp, ACE
In pest control, we are sometimes challenged with pests that are not naturally found in the areas we are treating, as can be the case with ghost ants. Ghost ants are normally found in mid and southern Florida, as well as Hawaii, but can be found anywhere in the country given the right circumstances. Climate-controlled environments in places like zoos where the natural living conditions of reptiles, birds, and insects are replicated create ideal conditions for ghost ants to thrive. They can be brought in the soil of plants for extravagant exhibits. These exhibits have realistic rock formations, tree limbs, logs and water features, all of which create voids, and cracks and crevices, giving ghost ants plenty of places to hide and little access for a pest technician to inspect.
If the environment itself wasn’t enough of a challenge, pest technicians are limited in the types of pesticide applications they can employ in order to avoid potential harm to the animals in the exhibits. Depending on the facility, there also may be a lengthy approval process to use the most effective products needed to treat the pests. These circumstances remove the benefit of a multi-pronged approach to pest control that is often used to best treat infestations.
In order to overcome these challenges, the technician must understand the goal of zoo management. A ghost ant infestation may not pose a serious threat to the environment, but it may be an annoyance. Some zookeepers may tolerate small amounts of activity. Others believe that the presence of ghost ants is a natural result of creating a realistic environment for the animals. And, some zookeepers simply may feel that true control is not possible. It’s important for the pest technician to identify his clients’ expectations and understand their perspective up front, before work begins. Communication with as many concerned parties during the bidding process as possible will help ensure delivery on the anticipated results.
INSPECTION AND TREATMENT. Following an initial assessment of expectations and restrictions, a thorough inspection of all accessible areas identifying trails, harborage and feeding areas will aid in determining the best methods to treat the area. The decision of what approach to take will be subject to approved products for use in the building and in relation to the animals. Sugar baits are a preferred option along trails in warmer, humid environments. Bait acceptance is positive if the activity level is high as the ants will be seeking a sugar source. Inspect these areas regularly to maintain the supply of the bait as long as the ants are accepting it.
This treatment alone can be extremely effective in reducing ant populations. Baits are, however, not always appropriate in areas where the housed species may be attracted to them, such as birds. PVC pipes or straw tubes may deter consumption of the bait by non-target animals, but they may be seen as playthings. Prior consultation with the keepers is essential as they have a better understanding of how animals may react to items in their environment.
Non-repellents may be an option in certain environments or if the baits are not achieving the acceptance needed to treat the problem. If the ants are trailing and foraging in plant beds and atrium areas away from the housed species, treating along trails and even baiting trails through a treated zone may be a useful method.
Pest control in zoos has its challenges, but the right strategies and working with keepers to understand the environments can lead to successful treatment. Knowing how and where ghost ants move within the facility and following up on active areas may keep them from contaminating the animal’s food source, allowing them to eat their meals in peace. This achievement alone could exceed all expectations.
A quality supervisor at Rottler Pest & Lawn Solutions, the author is an Associated Certified Entomologist who has been in the pest control industry for 15 years.
This Tech Talk article was originally published in the December 2016 edition of PCT magazine.