Welcome to Cranky Puppy Farm!

This blog belongs to two Gen X-er's smackdab in downtown Kansas City where we've been renovating and decorating two old Victorians built in the 1890's. Our life is filled with 3 demanding Pomeranians (1 of them cranky, of course), honking cars, noisy neighbors and the hustle and bustle of city life but we dream of the day when we can move to our 40-acre farm and hear nothing but the wind and the cows next door. Until then, we're chronicling our triumphs and mishaps here as we try to garden and preserve on 2 city lots, raise chickens, and learn all those things we should have learned from our grandparents. Welcome to our world - we hope you'll stay awhile!

Ants Are Farmers Too?

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Carpenter ants can be really destructive in your home or the wood pile but they don't really destroy trees unless they are already dead or dying.  But, when I spotted a conga line of ants going up one of our containerized apple trees, I decided to take a closer look to see what they were up to.

This little guy decided to wave hello.

Or maybe he's giving me the finger because shortly after I took that picture, they converged on me and attacked my fingers.  Turns out I was disturbing their tending to their livestock.

Ants watching over their aphid herd like cowboys watching their cattle.

Apparently I wasn't the only one entranced by these industrious little insects as, with a little research, I found that the ants actually use chemicals in their feet to tranquilize and subdue aphids, which are in the same category as cicadas and grasshoppers.  They're also called "plant lice".  Ewwwww!
You can see the fat little green aphids on the underside of the leaf in that last picture.  Believe it or not, the ants actually herd these aphids like we do cattle.  They bite their wings off so they can't fly away, they move the aphids up to the choicest part of the tree, pick them up and groom them, and move them to the juiciest part of the leaves.  Then the ants "milk" the aphids by stroking their abdomens with their antennae.  And then they suck their butts.  

You read that right...they suck their butts.  So much for the family rating on this blog.

From what I've read, the aphids suck the nutrients out of the leaves and then poop out a sugary honeydew, which the ants eat and carry back to their colony.  It's a dedicated food source for the ants.  In exchange, the aphids get protection from their natural predators like lacewings and this little lady that was spotted not far away.

Needless to say, the ants and their little aphid farm can't stay where it is and they really aren't welcome in the garden AT ALL.  The aphids are easily sprayed off the leaves with a hose, which disrupts the ants activity.  We sprayed them off last night and will keep an eye on the situation because aphids can and will chomp on other types of plants, including just about anything in the garden.  

If drowning them doesn't work, we may have to look at some other options.  You can pop them between your fingers, or use organic spray like Neem Oil or insecticidal soap or (what I think we will do) dust the tree with Diatomaceous Earth.  I've also read that planting sweet alyssum in conjunction with garlic may repel the ants and attract the insects that normally prey on the aphids.  Anybody have any experience with that?

Yeehaw!  Get along little aphids...   
Anywhere but on my apple trees!

I'm sharing this with this week's HomeAcre HopGreen Living Thursday and From the Farm hops.  Go check them out!


  1. Um...gross. That's one of those things you just can't un-see. But now I know! I always wondered why the two were such friends! Thanks for the knowledge!

  2. Oh my, so interesting. I lost an apple tree to some kind of insect infestation and we have multiple ant hills nearby.

    I sprayed my cherry tree with a soapy water last year to get rid of black aphids but I had trouble reaching the upper branches well.

  3. Hi Cranky Puppy :)
    I remember learning about this as a kid and found it fascinating...but then kids are entertained by some pretty gross things ;-)

    If you have trouble getting rid of them, try mixing just a drop of dish soap and 1 tsp of rubbing alcohol in a quart of water and spraying them with that. It will kill them pronto. Don't use antibacterial dish soap...I'm not sure if it will have an adverse affect on the trees.

    Best wishes and thanks for sharing this on The HomeAcre Hop! Hope to see you again tomorrow at:

  4. Those are some serious ants! Any recommendations on organic control?
    Thanks for posting to Dude, Sustainable! Green Living Thursdays @ www.dudesustainable.com


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...