So one again breakfast was delayed as I swept them all away and hosed down the area. Can I have my breakfast now please?
I have lots of ant stories the biggest and best one being the one from St Louis, which I will save until later because there was more ant news from the garden this morning.
If you have ever noticed small piles of sand and soil around the base of a plant it probably means one thing. The ants are farming root aphids down there. They particularly like several of my native plant species including blackfoot daisies, purple skullcaps and Gulf coast penstemon. The latter is one of their favorites. The sudden wilting and demise of these plants is often the result of root aphids even when ants are not present. They love the dry conditions and the last two months have been just that. Pull out the plant and you will likely find clusters of white root aphids.
Ants have a symbiotic relationship with the aphid. The aphid has a special gland called a trophobiotic organ which stores the honeydew that the ants use for food. So is it just chance that the ants find the aphids? Not on your life. They save eggs over the winter and in the spring carry them to the host plant. They truly are little farmers. And when one plant is dead they can move those aphids to another plant.
For the last couple of weeks I have been watching little piles of chopped mulch appearing around the base of the spider zinnias which were growing in one of my vegetable beds. Every day I hosed the root down hoping to deter both pests, to no avail. The demise of the plant continued. Was it aphids or was it something else. I examined the plant carefully when I pulled it out. One or two root aphids but nothing that would kill a plant. It turns out the ants had been stripping the outer layers of the plant at the soil line resulting in death. I remember this happening last year to the same plants.
Eggplant for dinner last night? Forget that idea. Ants have made holes in the eggplant. They are all over my beautiful eggplant plants, the one plant that has survived the brutal summer and was about to start giving me fruits.
Ants are pretty smart when it comes to farming. One of the greatest examples of this is the leaf cutter ant. Among the hierarchy in the colony, they gather, transport, chop and cultivate fungus on the leaves. They feed this fungus to their young. Each ant in the colony has a specific roll. From cutting the leaves and bringing them to the nest where smaller ants will cut the pieces even smaller before they a chewed to create a medium for growing the fungus. There are leaf cutter ants in Texas but so far I have not seen them. By all accounts they can strip the leaves from a tree.
We saw an wonderful display of leaf cutters at the Montreal Botanic Garden. There in a giant indoor case the ants were cutting the leaves and moving them along the branches to the nests.
|Leaf cutter ants at Montreal Botanic Garden|
|Chopped leaves ready to be used in the nesting boxes to grow fungus|
I won't even get onto the subject of fire ants.