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Tuesday - January 12, 2010

From: Garden Valley, ID
Region: Rocky Mountain
Topic: Pests
Title: Perennial plants resistant to cutter ants in Aransas Pass, TX
Answered by: Jackie OKeefe and Barbara Medford


We are moving to Aransas Pass, Texas. Are there any perennial plants resistant to cutter ants?


Are you already aware of a cutter ant problem in Aransas Pass? We can easily believe that you do, because we had a question on those critters from Rockport some time ago. 

We went looking for information on leaf cutter ants, and found that it is an enormous problem. Like fire ants, these creatures are imported from Central and South America and have no natural enemies in our area. This very comprehensive site from Texas A&M AgriLIFE Extension, Leaf Cutting Ants, has a lot of information that you should read.

To quote from the above site:

"Defoliation by leaf cutting ants can resemble damage produced by several other leaf chewing insects, particularly sawflies and leaf cutting bees. Trees defoliated by the leaf cutting ant usually are within sight of an ant nest and the ants themselves may be seen carrying leaves. Foraging trails will be littered with pieces of leaf tissue that can be traced to a feeder hole. Considerable damage to a plant can occur in a few hours. Small- to medium-sized trees can be stripped in one night. One researcher in South America estimated that a large leaf cutting ant colony harvested approximately 13,000 pounds of leaves over a 6-year period. This same colony excavated 802 cubic feet of soil weighing over 44 tons."

First of all, let's make sure we're talking the right bug. Take a look at this page of Images of leaf cutting ants and see if that is what is going on in your yard.

The most recent information I found on those ants was that they were threatening pine forests as near as East Texas and on east into Georgia and Florida. They apparently choose one particular plant to chow down on, but the reason they take so many leaves is not for food and not for nest lining but for their own version of farming. They go back to the colony, chew the leaves and spit them out and on this base a fungus grows which is the only food of the ants, including the young. When a queen ant flies, she takes a "starter" from this fungus, establishes a new little hole, and plants her garden. Then, the workers come in and begin the fresh tunneling. Because they eat nothing but the fungi, putting out bait is not successful. Because they have such a large and intricate colony of underground tunnels, spraying down the holes in the conical mounds doesn't go far enough to do any real good.

So, you and probably neighbors have a major problem if you already have plants infested with the ants. Aransas Pass seems to be spread out over three counties.  We suggest you contact the County Extension Office in Aransas, Nueces or San Patricio County, each will have contact information, you can and ask them if this problem is known elsewhere in the area, and what they may have found effective. We would recommend you find a licensed professional who will make whatever applications are suggested by the Extension Office. As indicated above, eliminating or choosing one particular plant probably won't work because the ants make their own choices of host plants. In the meantime, you could always use the old home remedy of scattering diatomaceous earth (DE) on the mounds and the routes the ants are taking. It won't eliminate them, but it will give you some feeling of revenge, because the DE scratches their external protective covering, drying it out and killing them.




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