Ants in your plants

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I worked at a couple of nurseries as a youngster and remember in the springtime walking past rows of potted peonies, finding carpenter ants perched on the buds. What did I do? I sent those little dudes into orbit with a swipe of my hand. I did this a lot. Then one day my boss said something like, "The buds on those peonies are looking great. Now all we need are some ants." That was when I learned that they were supposed to be there. It used to be thought -- and I'm sure my boss was thinking this -- that the plants could not flower without ants climbing up there and chewing on the buds so they can open, but I believe that's been disproven. However, I've learned that the ants do one important thing, which was to protect the flowers from any other invading pests.

So with all that backstory, I noticed some very tiny gnats on the buds of my Ilex verticillata (winterberry) today. Mine is a male plant, which means flowers but no berries. I don't know anything about those gnats, but I happened to see my old friend the carpenter ant was also present. I knocked a few of those off like old-school before finally remembering the old story that I have just bored you with. So, my question is... Anyone know what those ants are doing, or what about those gnats? The gnats are very small, nearly impossible to photograph. Any expertise with ant-on-plant symbiosis? I'm inclined to think the ant is sipping on some nectar -- which is also what the gnats are doing -- but the ant is also eating any of the gnats who are trying to steal his nectar.
 

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Wulfskaar

Chumono
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I don't have the answer for you. What I have learned and seen in our veggie garden is that gnats lay eggs in garden soil and it's supposedly bad for the plants. We've had to resort to neem and insect-killing soap in a bid to get rid of them. I don't think gnats are beneficial.
 

Aeast

Shohin
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Ants = aphids

Aphids produce a sweet liquid(poop) called honeydew.

Ants eat the honeydew
 

Forsoothe!

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Ants on plants is different from ants in soil en masse. One is not better than the other.
 

Paradox

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Pots on the ground are nice dry place for ants to colonize. Effectively prefab anthills.

I get ants farming aphids on some of my trees that are no where near the ground: 8 feet above the ground on my benches on top of my deck..
They dont need to be on the ground to get aphids and ants.
 

Forsoothe!

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Yes, ants send great expeditions out to the ends of the Earth to conquer far distant lands. This is the time of year when I see great upheavals of anthills as a new queen is born and part of one kingdom is being sent to new seek new lands for themselves, sometimes thousands of millimeters distant. Sometimes they meet with the evil ogre guarding the new lands with a bag of Terro T901-6 Ant Killer. Ogre 1,947,738, Ants 3.
 
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So... I guess I was aware that ants farming aphids was a thing, but didn't realize it was so common. Here's a video showing how it all goes down. Some creepy stuff!
 

PA_Penjing

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So... I guess I was aware that ants farming aphids was a thing, but didn't realize it was so common. Here's a video showing how it all goes down. Some creepy stuff!
I think ants are pretty cool animals, did my science fair project on them. They are helpful in bonsai too. See ants on your plants and you know you have aphids, see them in the soil and you know the substrate is probably too water retentive. The best part is there seems to be no downside, they have never damaged anything in my garden. The only argument I could see is that they could get inside your house, but they won't survive long if you don't have water damage or food laying out everywhere. I saw ants in my bathroom and sure enough the window was leaking water down behind the wall. Thanks guys 🐜🐜🐜🐜
 

Dkdhej

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T
So... I guess I was aware that ants farming aphids was a thing, but didn't realize it was so common. Here's a video showing how it all goes down. Some creepy stuff!
Apart from this weird form of cattle-raising aphids, the leaf-cutters ants farm fungus:

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