Friday, May 21, 2010

Ants in my Plants!

Pittering around the herb garden a couple of days ago, I noticed something odd around an area where I had tossed a light handful of fertilizer some days ago: movement.

Lots and lots of tiny movement.

Closer inspection proved that I had a whole helluva of a lot of ants.  And they were carrying BABIES.  Well, EGGIES... or PUPAE (to be really scientific).

(sorry about the fuzzy pics, as they are tiny and my camera isn't the greatest, this is what I've got)

There was a lot of activity going on, workers swarming back and forth with their little white bundles.  It looked like the main nest or whatevers was based in circle of my borage plants and directly on top of where my saffron bulbs are. It looked like they were ferrying things between that nest and another a couple of feet away from the rue/lemon balm.

My initial reaction:
"Aw crap!  Need to make powdered sugar-borax balls to kill them!"

Mature reaction soon thereafter:
Ok, what a minute. Don't need to kill them, just because they are plentiful and you have no idea if they are beneficial or not and because you get rid of them when they party inside the house.  It's time, for some RESEARCH!

As I'm not one for ant identification, I decided to google and see what might come up while I try my luck again emailing Professor Turpin from Purdue University's illustrious entomology department to see if I might be able to come up with anything.

Of any benefit I could think of that ants might be of use in the garden, the only one was of aeration from their tunnels.  Online searching seemed to indicate this to be true, and also pointed to me that common garden ants are scavengers of old, dead materials, cleaning up after other things or pests. Ants also are pollinators (a plus obviously) and in addition are predatory towards the eggs and larvae of fleas and other pests, news that is GREAT to me.

The negatives now:
If you find ants underneath pavers or stone/foundation things you freqently walk on or need held up, the ants need to go as they can collapse these structures with their tunnels.

You might also be aware that quite a few ants like nectar (just like bees as pollinators!) and they can be a nuisance if you enjoy picking or sniffing flowers when there's an infestation nearby.

Some of you may have also heard that some ants like to "milk" aphids, which is true, and the ants will protect the aphids to retain their food source "milk" of honeydew that the aphids produce.  Though, a good indicator for aphids, it can get bad, and messy if there are aphids and ants together.  As long as you get rid of the aphids, the ants will find other sources of food and will not be an issue.

(more close-up individual ant portraits)

For now, I can conclude that they are not carpenter ants, as they are not large-ish or black and I don't think they are fire ants as they seem non-threatening and didn't swarm a ladybug that I placed amidst them.

So, until I get word from someone of bug identification brilliance, these guys are a-okay where they're at.