Ants and their farming behavior

I have never minded ants really.  Okay, so when they are invading my house  I don’t like them so much.  But I didn’t treat them as I do spiders, which my thoughts are, “die spider, die!”  But not anymore.  Now I see ants and my thoughts turn towards squashing every single one of them.  My story begins a year ago.  I have a little lime tree. (Sorry, my pictures aren’t the best.  I have to work on my photography skills.)

Dwarf lime tree

Dwarf lime tree

I was so excited to see all the little blossoms turning into itty bitty limes.  As I monitored the growth of my little limes I saw some ants on the tree, but ants don’t eat trees so it didn’t bother me.  But as the days went by, I noticed there were some little black scab-type things starting to develop on the branches.  Not on the leaves, but the actual branches.  Again, sorry about the poor picture, I couldn’t get my camera to focus. But you can see all the little scabs.  The whole tree looks like this. DSCN0359 I was slightly concerned at this point, and then I helplessly watched as my little itty bitty limes disappeared.   So after my husband did some wonderful research for me, I spread diatomaceous earth around the base of my tree.

The white stuff is the diatomaceous earth

The white stuff is the diatomaceous earth

It kills the ants by soaking up their essential oils, drying them out.  And since ants have an exoskeleton, they need that oil,. The only problem is that if it gets wet it no longer does the job.  And the ants start digging a little tunnel through it and that somehow it is not as effective as if they have to climb on it.  You can see the tunnel they built to the left side of the tree trunk in the above picture. And the little line of ants going down into it. So anyway, a year goes by and my ant problem is still there.  After more research,  I came across a article that stated that the scab-type thing is actually a encapsulated aphid.  I thought, really? I have had aphid problems on my rose bushes and other plants, but an encapsulated one? And the article said they would be on the leaves, not the stems and trunks.  So obviously it couldn’t be that, right?  Wrong.  I took a pointy stick and could actually flick off the little encapsulated aphids.  Hmm.  Now what to do.

A side note: I watched A Bugs Life.  Not long into the movie, the queen ant is talking and is holding an aphid.  I used to think it was funny – the ant has a pet aphid, like we have pet dogs and cats.  This time, I was horrified.  Those rotten ants are killing my lime tree with their farming of aphids.  The ants are really like little dairy farmers.  The aphids are their little milk cows.  The aphids secrete honeydew (sweet substance) that the ants like.  So the ants “milk” the aphids. And my lime tree is the aphid food. I have no good solution either.   I can’t really attack the aphids externally since they are encapsulated, other then flicking them off one by one (which would take hours.) Or I can give the tree a systemic pesticide which would kill the aphids as they eat the pesticide along with their lunch (my tree.)  The only problem is, then I can’t eat my limes either.  But I am determined and persistent.  I keep spreading the diatomaceous earth and flicking off a couple aphids every day.  I will succeed eventually! I hope.

Last week when I watered one of my succulent plants and witnessed the swarm of ants carrying little white aphids, I reacted with speed.  I tried to drown every last one of them.  Not sure how my little plant liked it, but I was saving its life.  And then the very next day, as I was putting clean water in a bird bath, another stampede of ant-bearing aphids swarmed a beam on the aviary I was in.  Ahh!!  I have a beautiful rose bush that is growing in the aviary.  And since the finches in the cage enjoy eating the rose bush, this would create an even larger problem then my little lime tree.  Systemic pesticide would be out of the question, and I don’t know if the diatomaceous earth would be safe for the birds either.  Thus, it would probably result in the removal of the entire rose bush.  Did I mention this rose bush is about 9-10 feet tall?  It will be a sad day when I have to take it out.  But thankfully I have not seen any signs of the ants getting closer to my rose bush.   But now I have eyes like a hawk, looking for any sign of ants on or near any plant in my yard.  Ants have become the bane of my existence.  But I will prevail. 🙂

Suggestions anyone?

~Mindy~

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