The ants are farmers
When you are out wandering through your garden keep an eye out for lines of ants marching up and down a plant. This is a classic sign of an aphid or scale infestation. If you haven’t spotted the plague of pests on the plant yet, you’ve gotten in early.
What are aphids and scale? They are small animals that feed on plant sap. Think of them as the vampires or leeches for the plant world. They are about the size range of midges to large fleas. Scale are oval and flat and tend to adhere to the plant and look like innocent bumps. They are often black or a rust colour. Aphids have small legs and usually no wings. They are often green or black. But both come in a huge variety of colours – white, yellow, green, orange, red, brown, grey, black. As you can probably imagine, one or two of these tiny sap sucking insects isn’t a problem. But en masse they will bleed a plant to death.
What has this got to do with ants? Ants are farmers of aphids and scale. I kid you not. It gets weirder. They pick them up and carry them to juicy feeding spots. And no they don’t eat them once they are fattened. Both aphids and scale shit a sugar syrup. True! Ants love to eat this. Which is why they make sure their herd are well fed and protected from predators like ladybirds. And when the ants realise a particular plant is keeping their ‘honeydew’ producers happily munching they line up their army and carry the sapsuckers to the feast.
How to get rid of them? Scale are best rubbed off by hand. Spray aphids off with water or squish them. There are some chilli, garlic etc concoctions that some people swear by but don’t use insecticides as these will kill the predators that are on your side – unless your plant is in urgent need of ICU.
Not all ants farm like this on your plants so don’t necessarily take your frustration out on the ants that make hills in your lawn. Have you noticed how they hill up before it rains? They’re a pretty reliable predictor of wet weather on the way.
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