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How To Control Leafcutter Ants

An ant infestation can be annoying for the average homeowner, but there are other ant species which can be devastating to those who are in the agricultural industry or growing a garden. One particular ant that can be a threat to plant life are Leafcutter Ants. Leaf cutter ants get their name due to their habit of cutting into leaves and carrying pieces of leaves around.  Leafcutter ants are known to damage residential areas but are also considered an agricultural pest and do a lot of damage to vegetation when they infest areas in heavy numbers. High populations of leaf cutter ants have the ability to defoliate plants in the span of a day day and have lead to annual decreases in plant yield, hurting the agricultural economy.

There are only two species of leaf cutter ants in the United States and the majority of them are prevalent in the southern parts of the United States Like Louisiana and Texas as well as in western states like southern California and Arizona. Leafcutter ants prefer to live in warm areas, and unlike other species of ants, leafcutter ants cultivate and feed on fungus within their nests.

While leaf cutter ants are usually a problem in rural and agricultural areas they can also travel to urban areas and be a problem for homeowners because of their ability to rapidly defoliate lawns and gardens.

If you have a problem with leaf cutter ants on your land, the experts at Solutions Pest and Lawn can help equip you to take care of your pest problem the DIY way with our top of the line chemical control products and our free helpful advice. 

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How To Get Rid of Leafcutter Ants: Solutions 4 Step Process

When dealing with a persistent ant like the leafcutter ant, it’s best to have a multi-pronged approach to achieve the best possible results. Solutions Pest & Lawn recommends a combination of baits, granules, and sprays for controlling Leaf cutter ants along with carrying out regular sanitation and exclusion measures to make your property less welcoming to Leaf cutter ants. Follow these simple steps and your leafcutter ant problem will be a thing of the past.


Step 1: Inspect your home and the area around it thoroughly. Look in particular for defoliated areas or large holes in leaves and plant life. Inspect leaves, shrubs and other plants for stripped leaves. These will indicate areas of high leaf cutter ant activity.

Step 2: Seek and destroy the leafcutter ant nest or colony. Once nesting sites or ant colony is located, treat them with Surrender Fire Ant Killer. This product is a dust and can be sprinkled and used to create a barrier around any entry holes found on the ground. This is a non-repellent product and works great in exposing ants to the product and killing an entire colony. 

Step 3:
Once the nest has been treated, there are likely many ants still out foraging. We recommend spraying Reclaim IT
 around the entire property. Make sure to focus your spraying primarily on vegetation to prevent reinfestation. You should also use Bifen LP granules as a complementary product to tackle any other wandering ants. Spread the granules on your lawn using a granule spreader.

Step 4:
Leafcutters rarely if ever venture on indoors but they can be an occasional invader. You can also use the same insecticides listed above or a broad spectrum spray to create a barrier around your home and to spray any leaf cutter trails you have noticed. Leafcutter ant trails can be relatively easy to spot as they look like a worn path of bare ground.


Overview of Leaf cutter ants

With soldiers, workers and even a specialized garbage crew, leafcutter ants maintain a complex society. They form massive colonies with potentially as many as five to ten million workers and they can defoliate a mature eucalyptus tree entirely overnight. They get their name from their habit of cutting leaves and other plant parts from a variety of plants.


In states like Texas where they are quite prolific, leaf cutting ants damage weeds, grasses, fruit trees, blackberry bushes and many other fruit, nut and ornamental plants as well as several grain and forage crops.


Leaf cutter ants are often regarded as the planets first farmers. What’s surprising about the leaf cutter ant is that they actually don’t eat the leaves they cut down. In fact, they use them to grow a fungus garden which becomes both their food and living space. They keep their fungus garden well maintained with bacteria on their body. Bacteria on the body of a leaf-cutter ant keep harmful microbes from damaging the fungus. The antibiotic-producing bacteria appears as a whitish coating on the body. The bacteria they use are actually related to the bacteria that humans get antibiotics from.


Wherever leaf cutting ants are plentiful, it can be nearly impossible for plantlife to grow and survive because of how efficient they are in tearing down plants, grasses and other foliage. In such sites where they are prevalent, plants such as pine seedlings often are destroyed within a few days unless the ants are controlled before planting.


Due to leaf cutter ants only preferring to eat the fungus from the gardens they cultivate most conventional ant baits, including sugar- or oil-based baits are ineffective against them.


How Leaf Cutter Ants Look

Leaf cutter ants are a rusty to dark-brown in color, and workers from the same colony vary greatly in size, ranging between 1/16 to 1/2-inch long. The queen leaf cutter ant is about 3/4 inch long. Leaf cutter workers can be distinguished from other ants by the three pairs of prominent spines on their back (thorax) and one pair of spines on the back of the head. There are several different species of leaf cutter ant including the Texas leaf cutter ant.


The leaf cutter ant colony can have as many as four or five queens, each of which are constantly churning out eggs to grow the colonies population. The eggs then develop into cream-colored larvae which can range between 1/4 to 1/2-inch long when fully developed.


The leaf cutter ants mandibles are serrated like a steak knife to make the cutting more efficient. However the way the leaf cutter ants use it, its more like a turbo powered chainsaw that a lumberjack would wield. It’s not just leaves that leaf cutter ants like to cut into with their vibrating 1,000 times per second, leaf cutter ants will happily slice, dice and julienne flowers as well if it grows and can be carried back to their nest.

Leaf Cutter Ant Life Cycle

Reproductive ants of the leaf cutter species would begin mating in the summertime. nights during April, May and June. In areas where there is heavy rain, swarms of leafcutter ants can occur sooner in the spring.  Queens will then begin to establish nests under the soil with the first bit of the fungus garden they enjoy.


Once nymph ants develop into workers, they get right to work on finding and bringing back leaf and plant fragments back to the nest to add to the fungus garden. Size is no object to these micro musclemen as their job is to strip trees and plants of their foliage and carry it on their backs to their nests and they do this with frightening efficiency. The path back to the nest becomes a veritable ant superhighway and woe be to any insect who gets in the way.


Individual colonies can exist for years. Where there is plentiful food to go around, colonies can expand to contain over 2 million ants. Leaf cutter ant colonies are frequently seen along roadsides, in open fields, in brush land or forestland where soils are deep, well drained sand or loam.  These colonies can be surprisingly large, ranging between 50 to 80 feet long. The size of the colony usually depends on the age of the colony and food factors. In areas where infestations are particularly heavy, it is difficult to decipher where one leaf cutter ant colony ends and a new colony starts.


Damage Created by Leaf Cutter Ants

The foliage destruction by leaf cutter ants can look similar to the damage caused by other insects which chew on plants. Trees cut into by the leaf cutter ants usually are located close to the ant nest and the ants can often be seen carrying leaves to and fro.


Extensive damage to a targeted plant can occur in a few hours. Small- to medium-sized trees can be stripped in overnight. Wherever leaf cutter ants are prevalent, plant life in the area can be severely compromised and at risk of being stripped away.


Control Options for Leaf Cutter Ant

Controlling  leaf cutter ants is no easy task. While plants can be protected temporarily using dust or granular formulations of contact insecticides, like acephate (Orthene 97 Soluble Insecticide) or permethrin (Terro PCO), such treatments must be re-treated quite often. Also, plant applications do little to eliminate the underground nest. The large size and complex system of leaf cutter ant nests makes it difficult to obtain good control with dust, liquid or granular insecticides. Because these ants eat only the fungus they cultivate, they do not respond to most conventional ant baits, such as those labeled for fire ants.


When using bait, apply bait according to label directions while ants are foraging. Ant activity in the treated colony will reduce over a 4 to 6 week period. However, about half the time activity will return in 4 to 6 months, requiring a second application of the bait.


Before using any chemical, we recommend that you READ THE INSTRUCTION LABEL and follow all instructions and safety precautions. Avoid chemical contact with skin. Wash exposed areas with generous amounts of soap and water. Store chemicals away from human dwellings in locked cabinets and out of reach of children and pets.


Browse our Leaf cutter ant control products. If you have any questions or concerns call or email us or chat with us live online and we will be happy to help you.

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