Friends invent new way to attack fire ants

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Co-inventors Darrell Crisp and David Boots of Papaikou are trying to make a meaningful contribution to society, despite their age.

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Co-inventors Darrell Crisp and David Boots of Papaikou are trying to make a meaningful contribution to society, despite their age.

“Here’s two old dudes — David’s 86 and, at the end of the month, I’ll be 80,” Crisp said.

They’ve invented a fire ant “bait station” (www.GoodbyeLittleFireAnts.com) that lets the ants in through tiny screen holes, but keeps slugs out. There’s a cap that screws on tightly, making it hard for young kids and dogs to reach the ant poison. It also has a slot so it can be nailed to a tree or placed in the grass for ground infestations.

“Most of the time they’re up in the trees and they drop down on your neck,” Crisp said.

Their painful bites leave welts that take a long time to heal. Once one bites, Crisp said, it seems the insects are triggered by pheromones to start a biting frenzy.

The business partners carry a banner to Puna farmers markets that proclaims, “Goodbye fire ants!” That’s how they make shoppers turn their heads.

But, once that happens, the men believe their invention speaks for itself.

What makes their patent-pending fire ant device worthy of a patent, said Boots, is its unique design to safely attract and kill fire ants — with lower risk and bigger benefits than techniques such as scattering the poison manually.

The device lowers risk of exposure to insecticides, the retirees-turned-businessmen believe, for dogs, birds, children and society in general.

Spraying or using granulated corn, infused with poison, can be expensive.

“Plus, it gets into the surface water, so it gets into our drinking water,” Crisp said.

The co-inventors have kept examples of each design leading to their current one.

How did they get motivated to invent a fire-ant killer to control the invasive species?

“The reason we developed it is he had an infestation and I had an infestation,” Crisp said.

The macadamia nut farmers wanted to make treatment easier and more environmentally friendly.

“We’ve tested it,” Crisp said. “We’ve got rid of ours. We no longer have an infestation.”

They also tested their device in Puna.

“People came out and they said they’re just tickled with it,” Crisp said.

The invention process isn’t easy, even for Boots, a retired engineer, and Crisp, a retired real estate developer.

At one point, they felt they’d solved the problem of slugs crawling inside the device by adding a screen mesh.

“But birds could still punch up through it and knock a hole in the screen — and they did,” Boots said.

Fill the final design with granulated-corn ant bait, tack it to a tree with a dash of peanut butter (which fire ants love), and walk away for just a couple of days.

“Look every two to three days and check,” said Crisp. “If you have an infestation, they’ll be there.”

Once a device draws fewer ants, refill it and move it to another spot.

With the standard method of scattering poison, Crisp said, the first good rain and it’s washed away.

Those are the days Boots spends in the fledgling company’s workshop, toiling with a hammer to pop the screen in place, sanding away sharp edges and getting each device just right.

They learned that “the law” would have them “locked up” if they pre-packed the devices with poison. Instead, each bag of four comes with instructions for how consumers themselves should fill each device.

If granted, this will be the third patent for Boots. One was an electronic way to solve a company’s product failure, he said. The other was a new way to make merry-go-round horses go up and down.

“If you see the forms to fill out, it’s daunting,” Crisp said. He’s not sure he could have gotten a patent-pending status without Boots’s help.

It’s essential to manage use of the fire ant devices, checking regularly and moving them to a new spot when each infestation is under control.

“One of the real keys is, don’t forget about the peanut butter,” Crisp said.

A bag of four bait stations sells for $20.

The Fire Ant Lab in Hilo advises people to keep yard foliage trimmed and leaf piles cleared away because fire ants like warm, wet, shady environments where they can hide.

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To report a suspected invasive species, call the Hawaii Pest Hotline at 643-7378.

Email Jeff Hansel at jhansel@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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