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Agriculture Today

Watch out for leaf cutter ants

Watch out for leaf cutter ants

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December 11, 2013
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Leaf cutting ants are reddish-brown with three pairs of spines on the thorax and one pair of spines on the back of the head. Workers come in various sizes, but can be up to ½-inch long. Mounds can become large and are sometimes mistaken for fire ant mounds. Leaf cutter ant mounds have a central opening and often a crater shape at the top.

Cut ants typically forage when the temperatures are cooler, such as at night or in the morning. They can sometimes cause complete defoliation of plants or small trees overnight. Leaf cutting ants remove leaves and buds from plants in the landscape. The ants do not eat the plant pieces, but take it back to the colony where it is fed to a fungus garden. They tend a species of particular fungus and weed out any other fungus from the garden.

Colonies may exist for years and can exceed over two million ants. It is not unusual for a single colony to cover an acre of land. Colonies are usually found in well drained, sandy or loamy soils.

Plants can be temporarily protected by using spray adhesives around the base of the plant. These would need to be refreshed often when dirt or debris accumulates on the adhesive. Temporary protection can also be provided with contact insecticidal spray or dusts. If mounds are located in an area, the bait product labeled for leaf cutter ants, Amdro Ant Block, can be broadcast with a hand-held spreader around the mound area. If no mounds are seen, then residual sprays and dusts can be used along foraging trails and around openings.

Source: Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service Entomology Update

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