January 29, 2010

Club soda? Maybe just the club ...

Entomologists bugged by bad advice on fire ant control


Contact(s): Elizabeth “Wizzie” Brown, 512-854-9600, EBrown@ag.tamu.edu  
AUSTIN – Entomologists are being bugged again by erroneous pest control advice that’s been popping up all over cyberspace like ants at a picnic, said a Texas AgriLife Extension Service entomologist in Austin.

“I’ve gotten several emails recently asking about club soda as a fire ant mound treatment,” said Wizzie Brown, AgriLife Extension integrated pest management program specialist in Travis County. “This information has been floating around on the Internet since 2007, but seemed to regain momentum starting in December of last year.”

Other AgriLife Extension entomologists throughout the state have been receiving similar inquiries, she said.

The message on the Internet relates to “an environmentally friendly cure for fire ants,” Brown said, and suggests the reader pour two cups of club soda directly onto the center of a fire ant mound to control the colony.

“This message has been passed around the Internet via email, and has found its way into gardening forums and has been picked up by media – all without any scientific testing to back it up,” she said.

According to the message, the carbon dioxide in the soda is supposed to displace the oxygen and suffocate the ants, including the queen, killing the entire colony within about 48 hours. It also notes that club soda leaves no toxic residue, does not contaminate ground water and will not “indiscriminently” kill other insects or harm pets.

“What it doesn’t say is that the treatment is ineffective, unless you happen to drown a few fire ants in the process,” said Brown, who has been testing a variety of home remedies for fire ant management over the past several years.

Brown, in fact, ran a field trial in 2009 testing the efficacy of club soda as a fire ant mound treatment.

“Long story short, it didn't work,” she said. “Observations and statistics from the trial showed no evidence of any type of control as a result. Pouring club soda onto a fire ant mound did not lead to the ants dying a horrendous death; it did, however, produce lots of impressive bubbling action.”

She added that her report on the field trial would appear in a future edition of the Urban IPM Handbook, published annually on the Texas Imported Fire Ant Research and Management Project Web site, http://fireant.tamu.edu .

Brown said the site also shows results of other home remedy field tests – including tests using molasses and aspartame – by her and other Texas A&M System integrated pest management experts.

The site also contains information on successful, low-impact options for fire ant management validated by scientific research, Brown added.

“As researchers, we can't recommend, endorse or encourage practices which replicated field trials show to be ineffective,” she said. “Fire ant baits are still among the most effective methods of fire ant control. Besides, in larger areas, treating individual mounds is never as useful as a widespread broadcast treatment.”

For more information, contact Brown at 512-854-9600 or e-brown@tamu.edu .

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