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An Incredible Pest: Any Good Suggestions?

| 9/4/2013 9:01:00 AM

leaf cutter antAs stated in a previous blog, we had nearly ten very enjoyable years in Australia. We are now home in Texas. Jim has retired and is building out the homestead while Julie has transferred within her company and is working in the IT industry. While many of our blogs will be about finishing the barndominium and lessons learned, this one is a quick post about a nasty surprise we had Sunday night.

We’ve planted three citrus trees and one peach tree adapted to the climate we face (hot, South Texas weather).  Despite the lateness of the planting, we’ve managed to nurse them along well and they were doing quite well.  However as can be seen from these pictures, in one night, three of them were entirely stripped of leaves.  The culprit – as pest called leaf cutter ants “also known as “the town ant, cut ant, parasol ant, fungus ant and night ant. Atta texana can be extremely destructive to landscape plants, gardens and some agricultural crops in Texas.” (Source, Insects in the City, Texas A&M GriLife Extension. The link for the article is as follows:

We’ve put every ant bait we had in our inventory.  The problem though is that these pests really eat only the fungus produced from the leaves they strip and carry to their rather large nests, making them resistant to normal sugar-based or oil-based ant baits.  Nonetheless, the ants didn’t return last night and the remaining tree is still OK.  During the summer months, these pests do their damage in the dark.  It’s only the following morning that you know if you’ve been attacked again.  With future gardens and other growing projects coming up soon, we want to do whatever we can to convince these pests to go away (from what I’ve read, you only control the pests – you don’t really remove them).  I’m headed for Wal-Mart as the Ampro brand and bait was recommended in the attached article.peach tree/ant

If any of you have experience with this nasty pest and have ideas or solutions, let’s share them as comments to this blog and see what we can do to help protect gardens from this difficult pest.  Here’s his picture (photo credit Seth Patterson).

Jim Christie graduated with a PhD from Kansas State University in 1971 and spent over 40 years in the military and in the IT industry.  He and his wife have been building a sustainable homestead in Texas while living ten years in Australia.  Now retired, Jim is now building out the homestead and developing livestock while Julie continues her career in the IT industry, but also enjoying the homestead and guiding the strategy in raising food.
9/19/2013 4:35:26 PM

Thanks Steve - I completely understand the frustration with these pests. We've gotten them a bit at bay by protecting the trees with sticky stuff but not other plants and being nocturnal, you never know where they're going to attack next. I'm seriously considering finding some of the Thermidor SC and seeing if we can drive them back to non-productive parts of the property.

9/17/2013 11:08:14 AM

Thanks Cheryl - the sticky solution is one that had appealed. When I was finishing the house, we had a problem with flies and flying insects in general because I was coming in and out with materials so often. Fly paper and fly strips in particular worked. And the strips were so incredibly sticky that I thought they'd be good to wind around the trunks as the ants do climb the trunks to get to the leaves. The trunks are pretty small at this stage as the trees are saplings and just starting their growth.

9/8/2013 2:01:27 AM

We normally do not use any pesticides unless it is a crisis. The collateral damage is often worse than the fix. However with ants we have a real problem here in our area. We've tried all the baits, home-made baits and tanglefoot. While they aren't leaf cutters, they do much damage. I have gone into the corn at 7am, sprayed soaps to kill corn aphids, sprayed the ants, baited, had clean leaves and come home at 6pm and the plants are black with aphids and ants - day after day. I've found ways to get them to eat bait by putting it close to what they are feeding on - even so a day later another nest finds their way to the garden to begin their destruction. The whole garden ruined by them. This year was different. We won. Last year I discovered a product. It worked for us and I am comfortable using it. It is called Termidor SC. It works on ants and is licensed for that. It is expensive. It does not need to be eaten by the ants to kill the nest. You simply wait until they arrive and then spray them and an area of their trail. Don't spray where the garden is, don't have to spray where the kids and dogs walk. Just mix some up in a bottle or garden sprayer and spray it on the ant line in an area where it won't bother other things - like in an area where the walk along the fence. The nest dies. In another day when you see a line headed somewhere else, spray that line. In a few weeks you won't see many ants anywhere. You can be selective which lines you want to spray too - it isn't like you have to spray it everywhere or put bait down everywhere hoping the ants will notice it. So far this year we've sprayed maybe three lines of ants. They don't come around here anymore.

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