The leaf cutter ants, also known as the Town or Parasol Ants, are notoriously famous for cutting off large portions of leaves from plants and transporting them to their nest.
Farmers and gardeners in many parts of the world always fear these pesky creatures since their destructive nature affects crop yield and quality. The ants can also damage buildings and residential settings. Fortunately, there is a raft of strategies you can implement to get rid of them and protect your garden from their destructive behavior.
Let’s get started.
Identifying Leaf Cutter Ants
Early identification can help you control their population before it snowballs.
The ants are tiny and usually grow up to six millimeters long. They have an orange-brown body with huge mandibles that allow them to cut through vegetation. Their hind legs are very long and spider-like.
Like most ant species, leaf-cutter ants live in large underground colonies. Their colonies pack millions of individuals, including workers, soldiers, males, and a queen hidden deep to handle reproduction.
These ants use the plant materials from foraged plants to cultivate a fungus type that becomes their primary food source. They communicate with each other using chemical signals.
Signs Of Leaf Cutter Ant Infestation
A dead giveaway of an infestation is their abnormally huge nest mounds that are up to 14 inches high and 1 to 1.5 feet in diameter.
The mound-like craters can extend from 50 to 80 feet across. Underneath the ground, the nest has several chambers that may reach 15 to 20 feet deep.
Besides stripping leaves from plants, leaf-cutter ants create visible trails to and from their nests.
The irritant ants forage primarily at night during summers and at daylight hours during the rest of the year.
Leafcutter ants invade home gardens— defoliating plants, vegetables, and crops. You can easily spot trails of littered plant material leading to their nests.
Getting Rid Of Leaf Cutter Ants
Several practical approaches exist to help you depopulate leaf-cutter ants in your homestead and get them off your garden and property.
Use Of Barriers And Traps
The biggest challenge with leaf-cutter ants is they only eat the cultivated fungus. Using common ant barriers and traps may or may not work. Some ideas include
- Place bands of sticky material in their paths. However, the ants may find a way around the traps.
- Create a bait station using a sugar and borax mixture and leave it undisturbed. Place the toxic mixture near the nest for the ants to consume and carry the bait back to their nests. The bait will spread to the entire colony leading to its collapse.
- Trap them with glue boards on large newspaper strips or paper bags on affected vegetation. The ants get trapped on the glue boards, which you can quickly dispose of.
Use Of Predators And Natural Enemies
Introducing predators and natural enemies in infested areas might be pretty effective.
- Parasitic wasps, nematodes, and predatory beetles can prey on leaf-cutter eggs and larvae.
- Ant eaters and armadillos feed on the leaf-cutter ants, depopulating them.
- Fungus such as Beauveria can infect and kill a large population quite quickly.
You can also control leaf-cutter ants in your homestead using cultural methods. A cultural method in pest control involves using agricultural or horticultural practices to get rid of pests.
Crop rotation and alternate cropping are effective cultural approaches for removing the ants from your garden. Some sources recommend the use of phosphate-rich fertilizers to eliminate pests.
Another cultural eradication measure is plowing, which can be more effective when combined with pesticide treatment. The plowing should be done within four months when the queen is 20 cm below ground and the leaf cutter ants are still growing.
The use of repellent plants such as sweet potato, sesame, citrus, mint, and eucalyptus has also proven effective in eradicating the ants.
The mechanical method is a traditional pest control method with proven effectiveness. For the case of leaf cutter ants, the technique works best with smaller infestations. Some ideas to consider include the following:
- Cutting the ground-touching leaves and branches of infested plants to prevent the ants from colonizing the area.
- Using barriers: Fastening grease-coated plastic tapes/aluminum strips / plastic cylinders to tree trunks to prevent damage.
- Attacking the leaf cutter ant nest: Damaging their nest will make the ants preoccupied with rebuilding it with fewer resources. This is even better if you eliminate the queen bee in the process.
Chemical methods involve the use of pesticides. However, you want to use them judiciously to avoid negative environmental impacts. Follow all labeled instructions and adhere to safety precautions.
Common chemical pesticide approaches include:
- Specialized Insecticides: These are commercially available in powdered form and work particularly well against leaf-cutter ants. Apply the insecticide directly to their nests, infested areas, and the foraging paths to eliminate them. However, beware the powder is hygroscopic and will wash away during the rainy season.
- Use Baits Containing Slow-Acting Insecticides: This won’t fit if you’re in for quick results. Insecticidal baits are slow-acting, and you want to ensure you use the one labeled for leaf cutter ant control. The baits are designed to attract the ants; thus, you should place them along their foraging lines and nests/mounds for desired results.
Preventing Potential Infestations
After getting rid of the destructive pests, you want to ensure you prevent their future infestation in your yard or property. Some preventive measures to put in place include:
- Keep your yard and property clean and free of debris, plant materials, and organic matter. Organic waste serves as a food source and provides nesting materials to leaf-cutter ants.
- Keep Tight Vigil: This will help detect their infestation and control them early before their population increases beyond manageable levels. Destroy colonies early in time before they get established.
- Avoid planting their favorite trees and shrubs: You want to research local plants resistant to leaf cutter ants to save yourself the hustle of ridding them of your property.
Leaf-cutter ants are destructive and can ruin your crops and plants in no time. Luckily, you can eliminate them with effective control measures and strategies.
Carefully assess the severity of their infestation on your property to know what control approach suits your context. Follow all the guidelines, whether you use natural, cultural, or chemical methods to control their population.
Stay proactive and detect their presence early to prevent a future outbreak. Best of luck!
Job Kiniale is a certified crop scientist and gardening enthusiast with a passion to help beginning gardeners navigate their newfound hobby. Let’s talk about plants, backyard ideas, and general gardening advice. Outside work, Job loves spending time with family.