Ants can cause concern but they are a nuisance rather than destructive pests.They feed mainly on insects,including other ants.They also look for the sweet liquid known as honeydew,which is excreted by aphids and some other sap-feeding insects.
Ants can protect aphids from attack by ladybirds and other predators in order to secure their supply of honeydew.Increased numbers of aphids may result in more damage to plants.However,ants do little damage to plants themselves, except by disturbing soil around plant roots and depositing it on the surface during their nest building activities.Some ants(mostly Myrmica species – commonly known as red ants)can sting,but for most people this is no more than a minor irritation.
Ant nests contain one or more fertile female ants,known as Queen Ants, which lay eggs in brood chambers within the nest.Most of the other ants in a nest are smaller sterile females,which are known as worker ants.Their role is to maintain,guard and enlarge the nest,feed the larvae and to gather food for the colony.The white maggot-like larvae are fed on a liquid diet secreted by the worker ants. When fully fed,the larvae turn into pupae.Some species of ants pupate inside spindle-shaped whitish-brown silk cocoons.These cocoons are often mistakenly referred to as ‘ant eggs’.
The real eggs are very small and not easily seen with the naked eye.At certain times of year,ant nests produce winged ants.These are young Queens and male ants,which often emerge en masse from nests during humid weather in the Summer.These fly up and mate, after which the males die and the young queens try to find a suitable place where they can establish a new nest. Once mated, the queen ant no longer needs wings, so they are bitten off.
Unless their nests are particularly troublesome,ants are best left alone.If a colony is destroyed it is likely that its place will be taken by incoming queen ants,which take over the territory and establish new nests.Disperse ant heaps on lawns by brushing the excavated soil on a dry day before the lawn is mown,otherwise the soil will get smeared on the lawn surface by the mower.If the lawn has an uneven surface due to years of ant activity,peel back the turf in the raised areas,remove excess soil and relay the turf. This is easier to do in the winter when ants are less active.
Many proprietary ant powders, baits, sprays and aerosols are available for controlling ants in and near buildings,but these are not suitable for general garden use.To make a real impression on ant numbers it would be necessary to destroy the nests rather than just the foraging ants.That is difficult to achieve as ant nests occupy a much larger volume of soil than might be suggested by the small heaps of soil excavated on to the surface.
A pathogenic nematode, Steinernema feltiae, is available from some mail order suppliers of Biological controls for treating ant nests in lawns and flower beds.The microscopic worm-like nematodes are watered into the soil in places where ants are bringing soil up onto the surface.
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