Friday, May 30, 2014

Giant Ants ... or are they?

I hear this comment A LOT: "I've lived here (insert any number of years) and I've NEVER seen this bug before!"  I'm hearing it again lately and the culprit is an insect that isn't uncommon, but this form isn't regularly seen.
Photo by Bryan Davis

Leaf cutter ant alates, AKA reproductives, AKA winged forms, AKA queens.  Most ants will swarm (or emerge from their nests to mate, usually in the air) right before or after a rain storm at 100% humidity.  Termites do the same thing, but they are usually seasonal, whereas ants can swarm at any time of year.

Over Memorial Day weekend, leaf cutter ants swarmed.  Leaf cutter ant alates are giganitc compared to other ant alates and compared to the workers.  If you didn't know better, you would never guess that's what they are.

When you find leaf cutter ant alates, you probably have leaf cutter ants somewhere near. It doesn't necessarily mean they are on your property, in your yard, or even in the immediate proximity.  They can travel by wind and be displaced a distance from their nest.

Leaf cutter ant colonies can be pretty irritating.  They strip leaves on trees and tend to favor citrus, other fruits, roses, and crepe myrtles.  Once that is gone, they will go after about anything else.  While they don't eat the leaves (instead they grow fungus on the leaves for their food source), they can strip a plant clean overnight.  You can spend quite a bit replacing the plants or treating for the ants.
Leaf cutter ant workers foraging

Amdro Ant Block bait has been shown to work sometimes.  Barrier sprays around the plants you want to save will also help temporarily.  Pest control companies can use products they inject into the ants nests that will spread throughout.  However, nothing eliminates leaf cutter ants, you only suppress the populations.  They usually return.  Sometimes you get lucky and they return in a neighbors yard and not yours, but they rarely are completed eliminated.

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