Cooperative
Extension
Service


University of Illinois
at
Urbana-Champaign


No. 15/July 3, 1998

We've Been Overlooking Some Obvious Insect Management Alternatives

This article is for those of you who have battled certain insect problems to no avail; that is, no matter how you've tried to manage an insect (for example, corn rootworm larvae), you have not been successful in controlling the little buggars. We may have been overlooking some obvious insect management alternatives.

On Wednesday, June 24, I sat down in front of my television and watched a movie on the Fox network called Legion of Fire: Killer Ants! The information in the television guide indicated that "Deadly ants find easy pickings in an Alaskan town." So far as I was concerned, this was must-see TV. After all, even in my idle moments, I am trying to learn.

The star of the movie (besides the ants) was an entomologist from Los Angeles who decided to get away from it all by fishing with a buddy in Alaska. The ant problem had begun before he arrived, but in true movie fashion, everyone was ignorant about the horror that was about to descend on their peaceful lives. Other principals in the movie were a local sheriff and his son and, of course, a grade-school teacher as the entomologist's new love interest. Classic stuff.

I won't bore you with all the details, so suffice it to say that these "soldier ants," as identified by the expert entomologist (who also was an expert in chemistry, explosives, firearms, and rappelling down cliff faces), could strip a moose carcass in 2 hours and a human (yuck) in minutes. Why Alaska? Well, according to the schoolteacher, the earth had warmed up recently in the area, so the entomologist was able to determine that the ants had found a terrific habitat in which to prosper after they arrived on a banana boat (or something like that) from South America. And prosper, did the ants. The ants multiplied and multiplied until by the middle of the movie, they numbered in the millions and traveled in deadly hordes, pillaging everything in sight.

The most fascinating part of the movie was watching the entomologist attempt to "control" the ants with many different pest management options. Following is a list of tactics that he tried:

  • a flamethrower--highly effective against ants on contact, but poorpercentage control and no residual

  • a shotgun, wielded by the schoolteacher--really lousy percentage control

  • essence of stink bugs--without question the most innovative tactic. However, although the stink-bug juice made some of the ants spin around, most of them survived. (By the way, the entomologist deduced this one based on his knowledge that stink bugs were the only things that the ants didn't eat in their native habitat.)

  • a handgun--representing a very bad recommendation. Although the handgun was never used, the sheriff handed the entomologist the gun as he prepared to descend into a valley crawling with ants. His comment, "Here. You might need this."

  • explosives, resulting in flooding of a river valley and towns--fairly large percentage control, although the environmental consequences were rather significant. This action, of course, concluded the movie. However, the camera panned on a few survivors, and one of the ants miraculously sprouted wings as we watched in horror. Oh no! A sequel.

    A couple of parting shots. The best line in the movie was delivered by the entomologist, of course. As he hung from a helicopter after blowing up the dam, the entomologist said (and I'm not kidding), "My mom always said that being an entomologist would be boring." But most importantly, in the end, the entomologist got the girl.

    Have a pleasant and safe July 4th!

    Kevin Steffey (ksteffey@uiuc.edu), Extension Entomology, (217)333-6652