Peter Ambrose-Pearce, Technical Services Lead at Syngenta Professional Solutions, takes a look back at 25 years of ant control.
Ant control technology has advanced significantly over the last 25 years. In the past, professional pest managers would have applied kilograms of chemicals per hectare as a standard treatment. Today we apply only grams for the same outcome, if not a better one. This change has been largely driven by R&D into safer, innovative chemistry with greater precision, efficacy and longevity. Here’s a quick look at how things have changed over the years.
Control treatments from the past
In the mid-90s, ants were treated with liquid organophosphate chemical treatments, and pyrethroid compound dusts were applied to inaccessible areas such as wall voids. Organophosphates controlled ants, but they were toxic to plant and animal life within targeted areas. Chemicals from this group are also neurotoxic to humans even at relatively low doses, and can cause damage after short–or long-term exposure.1 Houses would be drenched in toxic liquids and smell for 7-10 days after application. Professional pest managers wore respirators to protect themselves while on the job.
Non-repellent solutions emerge
Things started to change in the late 1990s. Organophosphates were withdrawn and synthetic pyrethroids – liquid, low-odour formulations – came into use. These were supplemented with the use of pyrethroid dusts to tackle cracks, crevices and electrical areas, and sands to treat outdoor areas and lawns. However, the step change in ant control came in the late 2000s, when food-based bait technologies with insect growth regulators and non-repellent active ingredients were introduced. Knowledge of ant biology became important as researchers designed slower-acting solutions. The aim was to delay knockdown and allow ants to carry the active ingredient to their nestmates. This essentially let the ants do the work, using their behaviour to control populations more effectively.
Ant control today
Today, baits have become incredibly popular with pest managers; as long as the correct bait is chosen for the species present, it can deliver a complete and long-lasting treatment. Bait products come in three formats – granules, liquid and gels. Generally speaking, the granular products have benefits for use outdoors where they can be spread over a large area and tend to target oil and protein feeders, with the liquid and gel products coming into their own indoors and when targeted outdoor applications are required.
With many of the pest ants being sugar feeders, and indeed even ants with a preference for protein and oil taking sugar as part of their diet, Syngenta developed Optigard Ant Gel Bait, which uses a non-repellent active ingredient called thiamethoxam. Worker ants that feed on Optigard transfer this ingredient to the brood and queen to achieve total colony control. However, although baits are very effective, they can take several days to achieve colony control and certainly in cases of major infestations using baits alone can be challenge. As such, the combination of gel baiting plus the use of non-repellent residual insecticides (to deliver rapid population reduction and prevent outdoor ants coming inside), is a common ant treatment.
Advion Ant Gel and Arilon Insecticide provide an ideal combination for such treatments. Both products contain indoxacarb, a low-toxic active ingredient that must be metabolised in the target pest to become toxic. The insect’s enzymes create a chemical reaction that blocks the sodium channel of the insect’s nervous system, but not before the insect transfers the active ingredient to its nestmates.
A new generation of pyrethroids
Compared to the non-repellent sprays, the older basic pyrethroid sprays using bifenthrin or deltamethrin were not seen as effective as they did not give long residual. They just repelled the insects forcing them into other areas that were not protected, just moving the problem not solving it. However, new pyrethroid formulations continued to evolve and modern microcapsule formulation technology nullifies the repellent effects of ‘naked’ pyrethroids and increases the length of residual protection. Demand Duo, which was introduced to the market in 2020, showcases this technology. Utilising a ZC formulation, a combination of suspension concentrate with iCAP encapsulation technology, Demand Duo delivers exceptional indoor and outdoor residual results for ants and other crawling insects by ensuring a gradual diffusion of the lambda-cyhalothrin over a long period of time.
Looking to the future
As we move into the next five to 20 years, the industry can expect to see greener chemistry with ever-improving safety, environmental and toxicological profiles. Ant control developments on the horizon include non-repellent residual aerosols, and new product storage and delivery systems which ensure products retain palatability and maintain performance after prolonged periods in storage and for extended periods after application. Don’t forget as pest managers you can influence the next generation of ant products. Certainly at Syngenta, we value the input from professional pest managers to help direct our developmental efforts.
Peter Ambrose-Pearce, Technical Services Lead, Syngenta Professional Solutions
1 Robb EL, Baker MB. Organophosphate Toxicity. [Updated 2021 Jul 26]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2021 Jan.