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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 - November 14, 2012

From: Caldwell, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Pests, Vines
Title: Vines free from cutter ants from Caldwell TX
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

What are some climbing vines cutter ants won't eat

ANSWER:

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 we 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. 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.

We suggest you contact the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Office for Burleson County. They should know if others in your area are experiencing the ants or might have other suggestions for their control.

 

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