UCF Biology Professor Joshua King has won the 2023 Theodore Roosevelt Genius Prize and $100,000 for an innovation he created to control a ubiquitous pest — fire ants. His invention is a non-toxic method to manage fire ants and eliminates the need for harmful pesticides, which helps keep the environment and other ground-nesting animals safe.

King was one of five winners of the Theodore Roosevelt Genius Prize, which recognizes innovators who are reaching beyond the traditional conservation community to foster technology-driven solutions that can solve conservation challenges.

King’s method, which has been named The Antheater, is a mobile, high-volume, water heating machine of 150 degrees Fahrenheit or higher that injects hot water into the mounds of fire ants in order to suppress them and does not disturb or affect other species nesting nearby. The system can potentially be used on other ground nesting insects as well.

King has been working on this technology for the last decade in order to get it patented and licensed. He started his research and prototype as part of his postdoctoral work at a different university and collaborated with an agricultural fabricator when he came to UCF.

Over the years the prototypes for King’s invention varied from a 20-gallon boiling pot to a coal-fired kiln. He ended up creating a fuel-powered machine that heats up the water before being injected directly into ant colonies.

The Antheater has been proven effective in defense of threatened and endangered wildlife affected by fire ants, including beach nesting sea turtles and Florida grasshopper sparrows. The system also has potential in a variety of pest control scenarios in urban, suburban and agricultural settings where ant control is desirable without the use of pesticides.

For information about licensing this technology, see this fact sheet: Eco-Friendly, Scalable Device Kills and Controls Fire Ants and other Ground-Dwelling Insects

Researcher Credentials

King received his doctoral degree in entomology from the University of Florida. His research and laboratory are focused on community assembly and species invasions of natural and human-altered landscapes.