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Leaf Cutter Ants

Summary: Leaf cutter ants cause damage to plants, making them pests to both agricultural workers and homeowners in Central and South America. Eliminating leaf cutter ants before they reproduce is a sure way to keep populations in check.

Leaf cutter ants can cut through the entire leaves of some plants, hence their name. Clever, huh? Parasol ants, cut ants, fungus ants, town ants, and night ants are other names that leaf cutters respond to.

Most leaf cutter ants live in topic or, at least, hot climates such as tropic areas. However, the U.S.'s southwest is perfect for certain species of leaf cutter ants. So, if you happen to live within their areas of distribution and you notice holes or rips in the leaves of your plants in your beautiful garden, leaf cutter ants may be visiting. They usually like to focus on one type of plant. If there is damage to your sunflowers, but not your tulips or peonies, leaf cutters may be responsible.

If you suspect leaf cutter ants are damaging your plants, look around for their nests. They are usually by an area of water, such as a small stream or creek near your home. Nests of leaf cutter ants can go as deep as 18 feet. They occasionally drop the pieces of leaves they carry, leaving a trail of leaf segments that will probably lead you straight to their home.

Leaf cutter ants own many amazing attributes. For example, they vibrate their jaws in order to make incisions in the leaves. Their jaws can vibrate up to 1,000 times per second. These little ants are amazingly strong. They can carry leaf pieces that are over 30 times their own weight. If you had the strength of a leaf cutter ant you would own the world's weight lifting title. You would also rule the furniture moving industry.

Leaf cutter ants do not actually eat leaves they cut. They actually use leaves for a different purpose. After they cut the leaves they carry them deep into their nests. Thousands and even millions of their fellow leaf cutter ants then assist in chewing up the leaf parts. By chewing them, they help a fungus grow. The ants then enjoy a delicious meal of fungi.  Yummy!

The leaf cutter soldier cuts the leaves and brings them back home. The soldiers have the strongest mandibles, or jaws, of all the leaf cutters in the ant colony. When searching for leaves, soldiers actually leave a pheromone, or scent trail to help them return home easily. They must have taken some tips from Hansel and Gretel and learned that a breadcrumb trail does not work.

These ants can cause a lot of damage to your home. They are capable of building large mounds in your yard and ruining beautiful plants. Here are some tips to eliminate leaf cutter ants from your home:

  • Apply dust insecticides in the mounds. Leaf cutter ants make many entrances in their nests, so make sure to treat every hole.
  • If your neighbors have leaf cutter ant mounds, you can spray your plants to keep them safe. Pick an insecticide that controls against chewing insects. (It will say this on the label.)
  • As soon as you see a mound in your yard, find out what kinds of critters inhabit it. The sooner you take action, the better. Leaf cutter ants can reproduce quickly. You might have to deal with thousands of them if you procrastinate.

If you are unsuccessful in eradicating the leaf cutter ants, do not become discouraged. Remember, leaf cutter ants are extreme pests to deal with because of the size of their colonies. Call your local exterminator for more assistance.

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