Location: Catalonia, Zone 9 Mediterranean Climate,
posted 4 years ago
Hello! I have an "ant problem" and I am trying to understand the cause of it.
These ants are very small, (here's a picture with my thumb in it for reference), they are quick, and don't follow lines, they seem to have a scattered trajectory pattern.
We have high clay soil with quite a bit of compaction, I remember reading somewhere that ants are the worms of the drylands and decompact the soil, and even though we are Mediterranean Temperate, the summers are dry and we have quite a lot of wind, so I suspect the root cause of this overwhelming ant presence is the state of the soil, something is unbalanced. The land hasn't been cultivated for a couple of years.
Some places where we find the ants are to be expected:
They climb up and down fruittrees where they are usually farming aphids or eating rotting fruit. Also, they are inside the cob oven. I had all my young artichokes die because of the ants and their massive aphids farms, but since I'm not able to be on the property a lot, I just kind of accepted it and realized I need to fix the root cause of the problem, and that is where I need your ideas!
They are also inside the house and have been for a few years, even if there is no food whatsoever. They even get into the light fittings and make the lights flicker. We can see the house insulation (perlite and cork) coming out some gaps amongst the stones on the exterior wall.
But there are other places where I don't get their presence:
They go into my potted trees, for example. I have some carob seedlings and some avocados. I don't think they have root rot, I understand ants would go there if they had it, but they seem to be healthy, although I must say the sight of all this ants in the soil and the death of a couple of the carobs make me worry about what the ants are actually doing in there...
Also, they are on the vegetables. Attached is a picture of a chard and a carrot we let go to seed, you can see how they are piling up the crumbly soil on the surface.
What I want to know is:
1-What are they doing, why is their presence so important?
2- What can I do to help the situation, re-balance the ecosystem so their numbers decrease and don't cause problems??
I have tiny, sugar-loving ants that could be like those in a Mediterranean climate. I can't guarantee they are the same, but they sure sound like it. You can use boric acid powder (only works with sugar-loving ants) around your baseboards (but don't put it where cats/dogs/kids can lick the powder.) Try to find where they are under the house, if you can, and put boric acid powder there. Check to see if they like vinegar. If they don't, make a spray with 50/50 vinegar and water and a couple drops of dishsoap, spray it around the foundation/siding where they are coming in (but not in your light sockets!)
If you don't want them climbing up a fruit tree, rinse off the bark so their scent they leave behind washes away. I set a glass of tea down that had cream in it, and they were all over it within 10 mins. Rinse with a hose anything you don't want them on. I really only see them in the late spring and summer.
And if you've got aphids, that means your plant or tree is stressed for some other reason, and needs attention; not enough water, too much water, not enough air circulation, crazy weather, etc.
Ants do farm aphids (if you see them running up and down on plants, most likely they are tending to aphids or their eggs.) I use borax with sugar (5 parts sugar to 1 part borax,dissolve in water on low heat until syrup is clear.) I put it into a plastic food tub with a cover. Puncture some holes on the sides, so ants can enter and pets can't get to it. You could just mix sugar with borax, but I find, that this dries out quickly. This didn't eliminate them fully for me, but reduced their numbers. Bonus is, that if your holes are a bit larger, slugs get in too.
Location: In the woods, West Coast USA
posted 4 years ago
I've never found ants to be a problem in the garden, but I don't have the stinging ants or the big ones with above-ground nests. They all play a role in the ecological balance of a natural garden, and their presence is often a good indicator of what's going on in the garden.
That's why when sugar ants find aphids that are oozing sweet stuff, they go for the sweet stuff. But the aphids are there because the plant is stressed. The ants don't make the aphids go away, so for some reason the ants get blamed for the aphids. Momma aphidoidea is to blame for laying the eggs. Not enough water, too much water, regular water but too much wind, too much root competition, nearby plants with growth inhibitors are some reasons for the stress. Washing the aphids off with a strong spray of water will get rid of them, then the ants will stop coming because there is no food source, but spraying water on aphids won't change the stress on the plant.
If ants are in a compost pile, it means the pile is too dry and isn't working. Meat-eating ants are cleaning up dead meat, whether it's small rodents or small animals, or even a large animal. They get rid of the bacteria-infested meat and keep that from getting out of control. So rather than try to get rid of ants in the garden, I watch for why they are there, whether it's business as usual, or something's gotten out of control.
But you don't want them in your house or near electrical or phone connections because they can cause corrosion. They put nests in a dry place near a water source. And in a Mediterranean climate they are moving because their water sources dry up. So, Judit, you should check around your house for a leak, a dripping faucet, some water/muddy soil, even a dog bowl that constantly slops water on the ground, that brings them in, and that's why they are in/under the house.
Ground hornets are also looking for these tiny water sources, and as mean as they can get, they will let you know what's leaking. So if you see them around in goodly numbers, they have found it, too. If I find hornets at a small water source, usually a dripping water line or faucet, I watch which way the hornet goes after getting water, because it's headed back to the nest. They are usually within 50 feet of a small water source, and it's much easier to find them with your street smarts than with your mower
Joy, the borax/sugar trap sounds like a great idea, and would work well inside, too.
posted 4 years ago
Well,that might sound good in theory,but we have tons of non native ants in Los Angeles, they pushed out natives, because they are cooperating between colonies instead of fighting like natives did. And they are not coming there leasurely to suck juice from aphids, they actively farm them from year to year. We have ladybugs and wasps, but you can see in this video - ants protect aphids from them:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=43id_NRajDo We have so many ants, that before I started using baits, every time I would water the garden, I would pick ants from me for hours. They bite when suqashed, but their bites are not bad, so that doesn't bother me. My small garden is full of mulches, I use compost and straw, and things other than cucumbers and melons are doing very good. Banana peels around the base of the plant work quite well to drive off black aphids, but seem to be a bit less effective for green brownish ones, but it could be that banana peels decomposed, and stopped offering protection, so I am putting fresh ones, and have to make sure to do it periodically. Plants take up something in them and aphids do not like that.
When I had aplot in other place, my cucurbits grew very nicely,but I don't remember ants being a large problem there.
From: NC State University General Entomology course: ENT 425
There are over 8,800 species of ants in the family Formicidae -- all of them are eusocial (although some "slavemaking" species no longer have a worker caste). There are more species of ants than all other social insects combined. They are also the most ecologically diverse group in terms of distribution, life history, feeding strategies, and specialized adaptations. As a group, ants consume a wide variety of food, but individual species usually tend to specialize: some are primarily carnivores, some gather seeds and grains, while others concentrate on sweets (nectar and honeydew).
In some ants, all workers are similar in size and appearance. But in other species, workers may vary in size and some individuals may have physical characteristics that make them more suited for some jobs than for others. The smallest individuals, sometimes called minors (or minims), generally work inside the nest caring for the queen or feeding the larvae. Larger individuals may forage for food or enlarge the nest. The largest ants, called majors (or maxims), often have huge mandibles and powerful jaw muscles. They often serve as soldiers, standing guard at the nest entrance, protecting foragers from predation, or defending the colony from raids by other ants.
Pheromones play an important role in the social organization of an ant colony. Alarm, appeasement, social cohesion, recruitment, and trail marking pheromones are among the list of semiochemicals that have been reported in ants. Each colony also has a distinctive taste or odor which members use to identify nestmates and exclude invaders. Regulation of caste is not well-understood. Apparently, all female eggs are identical when laid. Whether they mature into minors, majors, soldiers, or new queens depends on the care and feeding they receive as they grow and mature. To some extent, this may depend on the needs of the colony as manifested through feedback loops involving photoperiod, food supply, temperature, and many other variables.
Types of ants. With more than 8,800 described species, ants are the most ecologically diverse of all social insects. The following list includes some of the more common groups.
•Harvester ants usually live in arid environments and feed primarily on seeds. Many species build elaborate underground nests that may reach depths of six feet or more.
•Army ants are nomadic predators that do not have permanent nests. They include legionary ants which live in South America, and driver ants which live in Africa.
•Slave-maker ants raid the colonies of other species and steal worker larvae and pupae. Once the slaves mature, they work for their "owners" until they die.
•Leafcutter ants (also known as parasol ants) are gardeners. They chew up plant leaves into a pulp and use it to fertilize a fungus they grow for food in underground gardens.
•Weaver ants build nests in trees. Workers interlink their bodies, pull branches into position, and tie the leaves together with silk spun by their larvae.
•Honey-pot ants feed on honeydew excreted by aphids. Some workers engorge themselves with food reserves until their abdomens swell to the size of marbles.
•Fire ants are an invasive species with a very painful sting. They respond aggressively to any disturbance of their nest.
•Thief ants are very small. They raid the food supplies of larger ants and then escape through tunnels that are too small for the bigger ants to enter.
•Carpenter ants build their nests in wood. Unlike termites, they do not eat the wood but they may still cause serious damage to homes and other wooden structures.
On our Homestead Farm we offer the following advice to all visitors.
If you have ants which are a nuisance to your gardening or living quarters, it is best to locate the nest so you are not wasting your treatments.
The best treatment we have found for our farm is Club Soda, we pour it into and around the offending nest, it can take from two cups up to 2 liters to do the job.
The club soda replaces O2 with CO2, this destroys the nest, so unless you just really have to get rid of a colony, it is best to leave them be, or change the habitat which will in turn cause the colony to move.
We have five different species on our farm and so far we have only had to eradicate five colonies.
Our methodology is to let them have their space, until they become a trouble to what we are doing, same as we do all life forms on our homestead farm.
Some ants can kill trees, but that is not the ant's goal, it is because they expose too much of the root system to air and the airborne spores and viruses that are harmful to tree roots now have a way to gain access.
Location: Catalonia, Zone 9 Mediterranean Climate,
posted 4 years ago
Thank you so much for your thoughts. The borax/sugar solution on a food tub sounds like a great solution to try.
Cristo, I think you are right in saying that they are looking for a water source, we have noticed they look for it, but the problem is there are many water sources; for example, they are in the bathroom and always around the kitchen sink and running up and down the water tap.
That's also why I think they have chosen to set camp in the pots were trees are growing and by the roots of the vegetables, as they get watered and retain moisture.
I dumped the soil out from one of the pots where a carob had died and found a big nest, with lots of white larvae. They go from pot to pot to inside the garage, inside the house...I think they have a big metropolis set up, it's not easy to tell where they come from as there seem to be many, many entry points, and when you cover one up, they make a new one.
I feel that maybe once I succeed in building more topsoil, a hummus rich top soil that replaces the dry hard clay, their presence won't be so noticeable. I don't notice them in the forest just a few meters away from where I live. Also, that will mean plants won't be stressed which in turn won't be attractive to them or the aphids. That is what I'm hoping for!
In the meantime I will try the borax and hope for some rain...
Thank you again for all your useful information!!
Location: In the woods, West Coast USA
posted 4 years ago
Bryant, club soda, interesting.
Joy, no doubt there are tons of nonnative ants and critters have changed. As far as the teeny, tiny ants Judit is talking about, it would take 7 or 8 of them to equal the size of an aphid. I could be wrong, but I've never seen the teeny ants near aphids, and that's what I was referring to. Are you thinking that because your garden now has so many ants, that's why you have aphids?
Judit, it sounds like you can go around and spot where the nests are, and deal with them. yeah, kitchen, bathroom is typical. I just found a nest near a dripping faucet, kicked them out of there, they returned a few days later, I kicked them out again, and then they were gone, so keep an eye on where you found them. About 3 years ago I used boric acid on the kitchen counter next to the wall where they were walking, and they haven't been back, so hopefully using those traps will keep them away for a while. *knock on wood*
and if the soil around your plants they are kicking up is dry, I would say maybe you are letting it dry out too much between watering, and they aren't annoyed by the moisture. They shouldn't be at the base of a plant if the soil is damp enough.
Those teeny tiny ants are Thief Ants, they actually disrupt all the larger ant colonies by stealing food. The colonies I've dealt with were Fire Ants, which come in several sizes by the way. We also have honey ants, harvester ants, leafcutter ants but no weavers or slave-makers.
I keep track of each colony mostly as a way of knowing where we won't be putting anything that would attract them to a space we really don't want them to be. Should a colony move to a space we don't need them, and I can't encourage them to move on down the road, they are eliminated.
There are several ways to move ants from where they are with out killing them or using poisons.
1). Spent coffee grounds - pour out enough to completely cover the colony (a colony can have an underground nest that is three times as large as the above ground mound(which is the soil they have removed from their tunnels))
2.) Cold water poured into the mound - this replicates a flood situation, the larvae will float up and out of the nest which the workers will follow to rescue and move to safer ground, this effectively moves the entire colony.
You may have to use this method two to three times in as many days to convince the colony that they picked a bad place to live.
3.) Food Grade DE poured over the mound, this will work on their joints and literally slice the junction points in their exoskeleton to pieces.
We don't use it on ant mounds because it does the same thing to our beneficial insects and we have many species of these, which we want to keep on our land.
We have found Praying mantis, walking stick, assassin bugs and even lady bugs wounded or dead around the gardens when we have dusted with DE for pest insects.
When these methods fail it is probably time to move on to elimination mode, you do not need poisons to do this either:
1.) Spent coffee grounds with water poured over them, just as in number one to move them but the addition of water will leach the acidic compounds and left over caffeine into the colony.
2.) Soda water will remove the O2 and replace it with CO2, just as with humans, CO2 suffocates the colony where they are.
3.) Boiling water, pour two gallons into a nest and you have cooked them. Be careful that you don't scald yourself when using this method.
So there you go, non poisonous methods to get ants to follow your wishes two that will get them to move on.
If you have an area you don't mind ants living in, pour some sugar water into the soil, you can also add a small try or pan filled with the sweet to make sure there is enough to get the whole colonies attention.
They will find that treasure and move to it if you, at the same time, use one of the two methods to move a colony.
We do not use poisons on Asnikiye Heca, there is always an alternative, a little more effort but far better for the land, you, your animals and any wild animals that visit your land.
NOTE: Boric Acid is a poison. While it is safer than all others it is still a poison to us, our pets, and all animals.
Borax is not a poison but it is hydrophobic, it sucks the moisture out of what ever it touches. In the case of ants it mummifies them from the inside when they ingest it.