What are the ants underneath leafs in my garden doing?

What are the ants underneath leafs in my garden doing?

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So a few days ago I spotted a couple of ants underneath some leafs of a major branch of a tree in my garden. Yesterday I had the impression the amount of leafs being occupied by ants has increased a lot what then made me curious. So I spent quite some time yesterday observing one of the minor branches the ants had been very active on by that time. What I figured so far:

Underneath each leaf the ants are gathering, is an insect that looks sort of similar to a fruit fly (gonna call it fruit fly for simplicity, despite it certainly is something different). Around that insect are varying amounts of dots, which could be eggs or larvae. The ants seem to collect something from the larvae and also seem to be interacting with the fruitfly.

At some point I spotted on the far end of the minor branch 2 living fruitfly. They seemed to be not capable of flight despite having wings. So I concluded they must just have been hatched. They seemed to try escaping the branch, as they pretty directly were just running up all the branch. Having almost made it from the minor to the major branch, the 2 fruitfly came across an ant, which immediately attacked both of them on contact. I was expecting the ant to carry them away then. While being attacked, both fruit fly tried to hide in the attatchment point of a leaf. The ant was circling around the attatchment point of the first fruitfly I was wondering why it did not carry that fly away, since it could clearly geto to that fly. After roughly a minute the ant turned back to their hide, having fully ignored the second fly, after attacking it once, and also leaving the first fly motionless at the attatchment point it was trying to find cover in.

But what happened a few minutes later is what left me astonished. A few minutes after the 2 fruitfly had been attacked, roughly at the same time, they started moving again. But different then before (kinda looked as if they had been injured but not killed by the ant). They did not seem like trying to escape the branch anymore. But just slowly moving to the next leaf in range continuing for 1 to 2 centimeters going underneath the leaf and then stopping there. Pretty much being in a position, as a fruitfly is positioned underneath the other leafs, where the ants are gathering . After like 4 or 5 hours 1 ant for the first time scouted the leaf these 2 flys went on. And in fact, other than attacking them again, this ant interacted with the 2 fruitfly1 like the ants under the other leaves interact with the fruitfly positioned on those leaves.

By now (over 12 hours later) the 2 fruitfly are still there I just checked and the small fruitfly that was only being attacked once, disappeared. The other one still being at the very same spot it moved to yesterday, tho. I would consider them being dead. But I am not even sure about that.

So what exactly are the ants I observed there doing?

If any other pictures would be helpful ask for it, I can take them later today. Also I have a speculation what it could be that was going on here, but not sure if that would anyhow improve this OP. Oh, since I can't identify the species, it might be useful to know at least: this is happening in Bavaria - Germany

1 well with 1 of them, the other that had just been attacked once, was simply being ignored

From what you described, it seems to me the "fruitflies" are aphids and the ants are farming them. This is a widespread and common phenomenon known as ants-aphid mutualism.


I elaborate a bit. Aphids feed on plant sap, rich in sugar, which they don't digest completely. The excretions (poop) are thus still rich in sugar (you may have noticed how your car windows get sticky sometimes under tress - that's aphids poop, I believe). Some ant species co-evolved with particular aphids and collect their excretions, a valuable sugary energy source. In turn, ants protect aphids from predators and they move them around to cover other good plant spots for aphids to suck sap and even move them to different plant individuals. This mutualistic interaction between aphids and ants is quite common and causes a lot of economic losses to the agriculture sector.

The behavior you observed of an ant attacking aphids was probably more the ant checking them and trying to evoke a pooping response. Sometimes they get them between their jaws and carry them around. Aphids also have quite complex social structure, with an optimal spatial organization. Hard to say if ants are moving them around to reach this optimal "farm density" or for other reasons.

TL;DR ants farm aphids as humans farm cows. When ants interact with aphids they are mostly checking them and trying to get their sugary poop.


How to Control Ants in the Flower Garden

Horticulturalists don’t categorize ants as garden pests because they don't actively damage plants, nor do they transmit any diseases around the garden. In fact, there are some benefits to garden ants. Still, many people still consider ants unwelcome in the garden. Some can be aggressive enough to inflict painful bites, especially the notorious fire ant of the South, which seems to expand its territory northward year by year. And there are other reasons why you might prefer an ant-free garden. But before bringing out toxic chemicals, consider whether the problems posed by ants outweigh the benefits.

Ants on my pepper plant.

Oh the info to be found in this marvelous site! Anyone else have this problem? Ants (both what we call Long Legged Ants and little tiny ones) seem to be infesting my banana pepper plant. I have harvested once, and now it doesn't seem to be producing anymore. I think its because the ants are eating the buds. Any suggestions on how to rid my yummy peppers of this scourge??

Check around at your local nurseries for some gooey stuff called "Tanglefoot". When you get some, apply it to the base of the plant stem for about 4 to 6 inches. I have used this on my hummingbird feeder poles, and it works great!

P.S. I just noticed you are in the Marshall Islands. You might have trouble locating Tanglefoot. It is a mixture of a vaseline type jelly and pine resin. It is very sticky. I tried plain vaseline on my hummingbird feeder poles, and it didn't really work, but its worth trying if you cant locate any Tanglefoot.

Is your pepper plant potted or in the ground?

Sometimes ants decide one of my plant pots is a great place for a colony. They can often be driven out by submerging the pot in water for an hour or so.

Using a sticky barrier sounds like a good idea, too.

I've switched to using the "water moats" for my hummingbird feeders. maybe you could improvise something to hold a ring of water around your pepper plant. The idea is that the ants can't get over/under/through the water to reach the plant, so you'd have to watch to be sure a fallen twig or something doesn't provide a bridge for them to use. I don't think you have to be vigilant all summer, you just need to get them out of the habit of foraging on your plant.

Over here ants tend to go for Aphids on plants rater than the plants themselves (there are exceptions) they milk the aphids for what posh people call honeydew.. or as i like to call it aphid wee! Other sap sucking insect are the same like scale etc.

Some plants have extra nectar nodes usually on the leaf stems to attract ants as they help keep unwanted pests off the plants and some have them as the ants pollinate the plants.
Plants such as Prunus and Ricinus have these.

Other plants have such a relationship with ants that they house feed and protect the ants all for the ants to perform duties for the plants!

Its quite an amazing subject. more so than the plants themselves.

That's a good point, that ants are often a sign of another pest like aphids or even scale (never seen scale on pepper plants, but sure have seen aphids!).

Thanks to you all for the help. Will try your suggestions - and you're right Mark - Tanglefoot will probably be hard to come by out here. no such item as a nursery or garden center. Haven't seen any other pests - thanks be, and I have been looking carefully since my Hibiscus were all infested with thrips for a while. Wish me luck, and thanks again!

7 Tricks To Keep Ants Away

Ants are a tricky pest – some are harmless, and often they’re a sign of other detrimental pests, like aphids, rather than a problem themselves. If you want to get rid of ants in the garden, however, there are several different methods you can try. Here are 7 tricks to help keep pesky ants away.

1. Vinegar. Vinegar has a low pH that isn’t good for ants. If you know the location of a problem ant hill, pour vinegar directly onto the center of the mound until the soil is saturated. Alternatively, you can pour the vinegar in a ring around your garden or infested plants to form a barrier the ants won’t want to cross.

2. Boiling water. If you know where the ant hills are and you want to kill the ants rather than just deter them, pour boiling water into the center of the hill several days in a row. This ought to kill the colony or at least greatly reduce its size.

3. Cinnamon. Cinnamon has a number of uses in the garden but you probably didn’t know ant control was one of them. Many species of ants hate ground cinnamon and will not walk on it if they can help it. Buy a large quantity in bulk and pour it out in a thick line around your garden to form a barrier.

4. Beneficial nematodes. Some nematodes are parasites that kill ants and other pests very efficiently. You can buy and introduce these beneficial nematodes into the soil yourself.

5. Beneficial plants. Catnip, chrysanthemum, garlic, and tansy have all been known to have ant repelling properties, and planting them around the garden should help drive ants away. Marigolds sometimes attract ants, and these can be planted far from more important plants as a “trap crop.”

6. Lemon spray. Fill a spray bottle with water and several drops of pure lemon juice to create a spray that should drive away ants without making your plants smell strange.

7. Coffee grounds. Ants don’t like coffee, but luckily plants do. Scatter your used coffee grounds around the garden to deter ants and add much needed nutrients to the soil in one go.

What Do Ants Have to Do with It?

As anyone who's ever stuck their hand in an ant nest will know, ants are good at defending themselves. A colony of ants has many individuals, and all of them can bite. In tropical countries where it is warm all year, some trees have developed special relationships with defending ants. Ants live inside the tree, and they defend the tree against insects that eat the leaves. It's a good deal for both the trees and the ants.

So, we know that ants defend leaves, and leaves are most important to trees when conditions are dry. Scientists then asked, is leaf defense by ants better when trees live in dry places? To answer this question, the scientists looked at trees and ants in dry places and wet places. In all these places, they measured how good the ants were at defending their tree home.

The result? Ants defended leaves better under drier conditions. This means that trees survive more in dry places because their ants protect their food supply. This is a perfect deal for trees. But, the scientists wondered, can the trees actually encourage their ants to be better defenders when conditions are dry?

Try organic methods of ant deterrence. Sprinkle cinnamon, crushed bay leaves or black pepper around impatiens. Mint, cloves, or cayenne pepper may also do the trick. Try spraying area with 50/50 mix of apple cider vinegar and water, which can throw off ants' sense of smell. Some gardeners have noted good results from drawing chalk lines on concrete near plants. Any of these methods may or may not keep ants from your flowers, but they are a safe alternative to ant traps and chemical killers. Next season, locate impatiens away from your house or patio area, to deter ants from eating areas, and coming indoors.

  • Ants are difficult to control organically, while pesticides are harmful to the environment.
  • Any of these methods may or may not keep ants from your flowers, but they are a safe alternative to ant traps and chemical killers.

5 Natural Methods To Control Ants In The Landscape

#1 Lemon Juice and Water

Ants simply do not like citrus! Not only is the oil from lemons toxic to ants, the liquid also destroys their scent trails, keeping additional ants from finding their way back to plants.

A simple solution of lemon juice and water can keep ants off plants.

To use, mix up a 50/50 solution of lemon juice and water, and spray on affected plants. Re-apply as needed until the ants stop coming back.

#2 Mint Leaves, Cinnamon and Cloves

Much like with citrus, ants do not like the scent of mint leaves, cinnamon or cloves.

Because of this, all 3 are great natural solutions to use around the base of potted plants to keep ants from climbing on board. Simply sprinkle around the top of the soil base in the containers to create a natural repellent.

#3 Vinegar

Not only is vinegar great for controlling weeds in driveways, sidewalks and walkways (see : Controlling Weeds With Vinegar), it&rsquos also a great to control ant colonies.

Standard 5% vinegar will do the trick for most ant hills.

Basic, store-bought vinegar (5% solution) is all you need. Simply open and pour down the opening of the ant hill. It is best to use early in the morning, or late in the evening, as the majority of the ants will be present, and not out foraging.

Wait a few days to see if there is still activity, and reapply if necessary.

#4 Boiling Water

One of the most effective ways to control ants is with good old-fashioned boiling hot water.

Simply pour the scalding water down the entrance of the ant hill. The water will penetrate the channels of the underground colony, killing the ants as it moves through the chambers.

Boiling water is a great way to get rid of ant hills around plants.

For even better results, add in a tablespoon of mild dish detergent to the water before using. The oil in the soap will help increase the effectiveness of the solution.

Wait a day or two after applying and re-check the hill. If you still see a few signs of life, re-apply again until all signs of life have vanished.

#5 Baking Soda and Powdered Sugar

Baking soda and powdered sugar is another homemade remedy that works well to control overbearing ant colonies.

Baking soda is deadly to ants when consumed. By mixing it with powdered sugar and placing it in and around the ant hill opening, the ants consume the mixture, and the colony is killed off.

Ants on peony blooms are actually said to help protect the blooms from other insects.

Regular sugar will not have the same results as powdered sugar. The grains of traditional granulated sugar are large enough that the ants can tell the difference, and will leave the baking soda alone.

Here is to maintaining control of the ants in and around your plants and landscape &ndash without harsh chemicals! For more info on natural pest control, check out the our Natural Pest Control section on our Old World Garden Farm blog.

This Is My Garden is a website dedicated to spreading the love and knowledge of gardening around the world. We publish two new garden articles each week. This article may contain affiliate links.

8. Liquid Dish Soap

Dish soap works wonders to eliminate ants. It suffocates them and ruptures their cells, causing them to dehydrate and die. Just mix one teaspoon of liquid dish soap and baking soda each in a bowl of water. Mix well and spread the solution along the areas where you see the ants entering. You can also spray over trails of running ants just make sure to mop up the dead ants with a damp cloth after some time.

Why Are Ants Attracted to Potted Plants?

The simple answer is that they’re just trying to survive. Potted plants provide ants with food, shelter, and warmth. But of course, there’s more to it than that.

Ants aren’t usually after your plants. Often an ant infestation coincides with other insect pests attacking the plant above soil level, or they’re looking for somewhere hospitable to hang out. But an infestation can indicate that your plant isn’t as healthy as it should be.

Also, ants probably aren’t making a potted plant their home base. The likely have a main nest somewhere else, so your job is to encourage them to go there instead.

Let’s look at some of the reasons ants might decide to visit your potted plants.

Pest Insects

Aphids, mealybugs, whiteflies and soft scale insects all produce honeydew. This is a sticky sweet excretion that ants find appealing. If you have an ant infestation in your potted plants, it may be because pests are feeding them.

Inconsistent Watering/Dry Soil

I returned home from a holiday in summer to find a massive ant infestation in one of my potted plants. The pot had dried so much that the soil shrunk due to dehydration, making it the perfect environment for an ant colony.

You don’t even have to be away from home for this to happen. If you’re watering is inconsistent and the soil gets dehydrated, ants will come knocking.

Dry potting mix can also happen when some of the soil has escaped through the bottom of the pot and air has gotten in, drying things out.

Old Potting Mix

Commercial potting mix often becomes a water repellent. Over time, it dries out and water can’t soak in. This is what’s called becoming hydrophobic. Water should seep around the edges of your plants and out the bottom.

Instead, the water runs straight through without soaking in, which creates a hospitable environment for ants in the soil.

Transferred by You

Ants often take up residence in compost because there’s food in there for them or it’s dry and warm. Then, you transfer the compost to your pot as mulch or fertilizer and you introduce them to their new home in your pot.

In my areas of knowledge (Seattle and London), the ants don't make a real difference one way or the other. They won't damage your plants, nor will they give them much help. Of course, I can only speak to the small black ants, but as far as I know even the larger, more aggressive ants are more of a threat to the gardener to the garden. My sister lives in North Carolina and has to deal with fire ants, but she has to attack them because of the danger they pose from biting humans, so they're dealt with long before they could do anything to her garden.

I generally would take a live and let live approach. As long as they're not overrunning your garden or biting you when you're gardening, they aren't going to be a serious issue, and there will likely be much more damaging bugs to focus your time an energy upon.

When I put in artichokes, the little black ants decided to 'farm' aphids on them, which really did a number on the young plants. If they aren't doing that, then maybe you don't have to worry about them.

The ants will feed aphids! When you see aphids it would be too late to save your plants, especially herbs. My suggestion is to use ant bait to kill them. Just place the toxic bait in their daily path.

A few years ago, my home had ants appearing from time to time and they were so annoying. I used an ant bait, mixed with bread and sugar, to attract them. After a few months, they just disappeared.

Ants do spread aphids around. Small black ants was seen around/in my pots starting spring. By July potted plants, even geranium, was affected - ants brought aphids, mildew spots appeared, plants was stressed and not healthy. Ants was noticed during watering - they was running from under the pots, closer look revealed ants in almost every pot. Insect killers did not really help, aphids damage was already done (to annuals), small bushes in the pots showed yellow leaves, black spots and all other pleasures. To the end of summer almost all annuals was destroyed. Next spring all pot`s soil was replaced, ants seen around. Sprayed top/sides + around pots with ants killer (safe for pets), used ants protector (spray) every month around the house and pots. No aphids, no ants, no problems.

Whoa! You guys obviously haven't watched 'Ants'. that animated movie with Woody Allen, Sharon Stone, Stallone. grin!

I've never had problems with ants. This new garden I've got is riddled with ants, all types of ants. I know they domesticate aphids (isn't that cool?) but whenever I see aphids a spray of soap or neem takes care of them. It takes awhile for aphids to damage a plant. As soon as I see them I think huh! I'll wait until evening then I grab a pre-made sprayer with organic dishsoap or neem and spray. I don't like accidently spraying bees or beneficials. I've heard that both are safe for bees, but I haven't been convinced. And I don't have to worry about sun/water/chemical burns spraying in the sunlight either.

I've got all kinds of plants in my greenhouses, all kinds of ants and no aphids, so far. I'm glad we don't have fire ants! I like rsgoheen's live and let live attitude. Those ants are so amazing, they work so hard, never think about themselves and I admire them. like bees and other hive insects.

When you put ant bait down, the ants carry it back to the hive and it kills the entire hive. I need to look it up to see if it would kill the sparrow that ate the ant. I again side with rsgoheen. there are worse problems in the garden than ants. Maybe my opinion will change as my gardens are going to be seriously ant-challenged here in central Oregon. But so far. no problems.

Use of pesticides is like putting a bandaid on a preventable problem. They should be used only as a last-resort. Gardening is a process where humans are the weak link. Nature is teaching us how silly we are to think we can control everything when we know so little. We gotta relax to be good gardeners.