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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Wednesday - May 21, 2008

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Diseases and Disorders
Title: Leaf cutter ants in potted Mexican lime tree
Answered by: Barbara Medford and Joe Marcus

QUESTION:

Hi, I'd like to add a question to the recent post about leaf-cutter ants. I have a potted mexican lime tree that has been inhabited by an ant colony for several months. They are chewing holes in the leaves, cutting many, many of them completely off, and cutting my buds and tiny limes off as well. This lime is on a second + story deck high up in the air, yet they persist. They have rarely bothered the potted new dawn next to it, nor my tomatoes. My exterminater identfied them as leaf cutters, and put some sort of gel on the plant that he said would dehydrate them...and in fact, they drank it eagerly, and many died. But within a couple of weeks, they were back in numbers. I have used a spinosad product on them myself, and it was roundly ignored by the colony, and an insecticidal soap did not kill even those who were sprayed directly. But here's where it gets less clear to me - they do not resemble leaf cutters, but instead look exactly like fire ants...first two segments are brown/red, last one is black. However, there is no visible mound in the pot, and I have not suceeded in getting them to sting me. I have taken some very clear photos of these ants and the damage they are doing to the tree.. could I send them or bring them to you for help? I'll link them below in case that works. I would have liked to get rid of them organically, but at this point, I am ready to try about anything. If I can kill them, I plan to re-pot the plant with fresh soil. I would appreciate any advice you can give me.

ANSWER:

No one here was able to identify your ant from your description. Perhaps you could send us a picture and we can try to figure out what it is. Go to the Mr. Smarty Plants page and in the lower right-hand corner under "Plant Identification" you will find instructions for sending pictures to us. Of course, insects aren't really our thing, but they do interact with the plants that are our thing. We are concerned that if this is a colony that perhaps was in the pot when you bought it, that a new type of ant has been imported into the area via that pot. It seems like every few weeks we hear about another damaging insect that has managed to sneak in on a shipment of plants or fruit or something. We urge you to contact the County Extension Agent for Travis County, describe the situation and perhaps an agent will come out and look at the ants. If they are another introduced species, they need to be dealt with before they break out and infest your area. The contact information is at the bottom of the webpage.  

 

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