(Inside Science TV) -- To most people, ants are just pests and a nuisance.
But when ants march into your home and set up shop, they become unwelcomed guests.
Argentine ants are one of the most widespread invasive ant species in the world. The ants can form super-colonies that link hundreds of nests and millions of ants together.
Researchers at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana are studying them to come up with new ways to get rid of them.
“They don’t sting they don’t bite, but they do have very large colonies, so you can have very large numbers, going into someone’s kitchen or even nesting outside the house. It’s more of an urban nuisance ant,” said Grzesiek Buczkowski, an entomologist at Purdue.
A hydrogel could be the answer to the pesky pest problem. It starts out as dry crystals.
"At the start we have dry bait crystals. They look like grains of rice, and it's kind of a hard plastic material," explained Buczkowski.
But just add water and it turns into a clear jelly-like substance that can absorb about 300 times its own weight.
Researchers add a small amount of pesticide and sugar water to the gel – ants love sugar. In tests the pesticide-laced gel killed off 94 percent of an argentine ant population in two weeks.
“The bait crystals are just a really good way to get the insecticide to the colonies,” said Buczkowski.
The gel uses a hundred times less insecticide than traditional liquid baits and a million times less than sprays, making it better for the environment. It’s also cheap and easy to use.
“We can also eliminate an invasive ant and hopefully help out the native ants,” said Buczkowski.
Any ant species could eat the bait, but argentine ants have been known to invade and eliminate native ants – which are needed for a healthy ecosystem. The native ants – or good ants – can’t compete with argentine ants for food – including the bait crystals.
More testing is needed to make sure the gel isn’t attractive to other good insects or birds. For now, it’s a real, and deadly treat for these ants.
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Grzesiek Buczkowski, Purdue University