The University of California has a new tool for the committed do-it-yourselfer who wishes to control household ants, the No. 1 pest nuisance nationwide. Six scientists collaborated on the authoritative 72-page reference book titled Urban Pest Management of Ants in California, which can now be purchased online for $20.

Illustrated with 77 color photographs, the guide covers status, biology and management strategies for California’s five major urban ant species as well as 16 frequently encountered species. Helpful features are detailed keys to help identify ants by their variations in size, color, antenna, head, thorax, petiole and abdomen.

First, identify ants

“For California homeowners who want to do their own ant control, the first step is to identify the pest because management strategies are tailored to particular species,” said the publication’s lead author John Klotz, urban entomology specialist emeritus at UC Riverside.

For example, people often use baits for ant control, however, many commercial baits are not palatable to Argentine ants, the state’s most common species. Progress is being made in the development of baits that appeal to Argentine ants, however, the new formulations require special delivery systems and new application methods, which are explained in the book.

Of the 281 ant species found in California, only a few dozen are associated with human structures. Twenty-two species are not native. The most significant ant problems are caused by Argentine ants and red imported fire ants, both of which originated in South America. These invasive ants have spread aggressively, out-competing and displacing native ant species in many parts of the state.

Red imported fire ant most notorious urban ant

The authors consider red imported fire ant the most notorious urban ant because of its aggressive nature and painful sting. More research has been devoted to the development of pest management strategies for red imported fire ants than for any other urban pest ant. The book suggests treatment products, optimal treatment times, and methods for preventing reinfestation of frequently used areas, like athletic fields.

In the chapter on occasional and emerging urban ant pests of California, shorter descriptions are included about the status, biology and management of pharaoh ants, thief ants, pavement ants, big-headed ants, white-footed ants, ghost ants , pyramid ants, crazy ants, false ants, acrobat ants and others.

The book’s first chapter, Integrated Pest Management of Ants, is an introduction to ant control in general. In writing this section, the authors responded to the public's growing demand for less toxic, environmentally friendly pest control techniques and growing regulatory control of pesticides by developing more effective, targeted and greener solutions to urban ant problems.

“Many homeowners believe IPM is a control program that does not include pesticides,” Klotz said. “The concept of IPM, however, encompasses a broad approach to ant control, and considers the pest biology and environmental conditions to minimize the use of pesticides.”

Photos and instructions review common-sense steps homeowners can take to minimize the indoor ant population, such as caulking entry points, trimming trees and shrubbery in contact with the home and reducing outdoor nesting sites. Readers will find information about a variety of ant bait stations and products that can be used to control ant populations without spraying pesticides in a broad area.

Urban Pest Management of Ants in California is available from the UC ANR Catalog at http://ucanr.org/urbanants. Copies of the publication may also be purchased at county UC Cooperative Extension offices. For more information, contact Michelle Golden, mvgolden@ucdavis.edu, (530) 754-3934.