No, ants don’t eat leaves. While ants are known to be highly opportunistic eaters, there are no known ants that consume leaves as food. That doesn’t mean however, that ants don’t damage them.
While they may not consume leaves, some ants called leafcutter ants are known to cut them down and destroy them. In fact, these ants can become a problem in agricultural fields or gardens as they cut down leaves to the point of defoliating trees to death.
In this article, we’ll learn more about what ants actually eat and what they do for leaves. We’ll also discuss if ants are bad for leaves and what you can do about leafcutter ants.
What Do Ants Eat?
As mentioned, ants are highly opportunistic eaters. They’re generally omnivores and eat a variety of food from plant or animal sources such as meat, nectar, and honeydew. Again though, while ants aren’t necessarily picky for food, they somehow don’t eat leaves.
What Do Ants Do With Leaves?
If ants don’t eat leaves, then what do they do with them? Well most ants don’t actually care about leaves and don’t bother with them at all. There are however, 47 species of ants known as leafcutter ants which as mentioned, cut down and destroy leaves.
These leafcutter ants bite and collect leaves from trees to take them back to their nests. There they further cut down, crush, compost, and arrange these leaves to cultivate fungi which they eventually feed on.
Apart from leafcutter ants, weaver ants are also known to make use of leaves. Unlike the former which end up damaging leaves however, weaver ants simply pull on living leaves and weave them together with their own silk to construct their nests.
Are Ants Bad For Leaves?
Most ants aren’t bad for leaves or plants in general. There are just some select types of ants that do damage to them. Again, leafcutter ants include 47 species of ants which cut down leaves from trees.
These ants are considered to be huge agricultural pests as they can strip down trees of their leaves in a matter of hours. They can also damage crops and indirectly cause erosion. All in all, estimates suggest that leafcutter ants cause around a billion dollars worth of economic loss globally.
It’s worth noting though that while leafcutter ants can be a menace to human-altered environments such as agricultural lands, they aren’t considered to be pests in natural habitats. In fact, they’re even deemed beneficial and a keystone species as they contribute largely to environmental diversity, productivity, and nutrient and energy flow.
Their activities have been shown to help with soil quality and seed dispersal. Their symbiotic relationships have also led to the discovery of some antibiotics and their colonies are considered to be models for agriculture and sustainable production.
Signs Of Leafcutter Ants
Despite the benefits they provide, it is still true that leafcutter ants can be pests to gardens or agricultural lands. With that, it’s therefore crucial to know the warning signs of an infestation to prevent the defoliation of plants.
What’s difficult though is that these ants mostly forage at night especially during the summer and can therefore stealthily cause destruction.
Fortunately, there are common signs that indicate the presence of leafcutter ants.These signs are as follows:
- Damage. A prevalent sign of a leafcutter ant infestation are damaged leaves. These ants will chew on leaves and leave them with holes or cuts resembling damage caused by other leaf-chewing insects.
- Foraging Trails. Leafcutter may sometimes leave a trail of cut-up fragments of leaves that they’ve collected. This will make it easier to locate their nests.
- Mounds. Leafcutter ants build their nests in moist, well-drained, or loamy soil and produce crater-shaped mounds. Finding these mounds in your land or garden along with damaged leaves may well indicate the presence of these ants. Be careful with these mounds however, as other more aggressive ants such as the notorious fire ants may also build them.
- Leafcutter Ants. Lastly, there are of course the ants themselves. Leafcutters are red or brown long-legged ants that measure around 2mm to 13mm (0.07″ to 0.51″) in length. They usually forage at night and can generally be found on trees feeding on sap or collecting leaves.
How To Get Rid Or Prevent Leafcutter Ants
Once you’ve identified that you do indeed have a leafcutter ant problem, the general recommendation is to contact professional help. That way, they can properly apply treatment and measures to not only get rid of the leafcutter ant colony, but to also prevent them from establishing new ones.
Doing so also rids you of the hassle of choosing and applying the right insecticides. Note that some insecticides may be harmful to other pets while some cannot be applied to agricultural sites.
If you would like to try and give it a go yourself however, here are some methods you can follow:
Drenching. A simple way to try and get rid of leafcutter ants is to drench their nests with boiling water or insecticides. The latter of course will be more effective, but if either don’t reach the queen then you’ll have to regularly keep an eye out for mounds and drench regularly.
Spraying Insecticide. Apart from drenching the nest or mound itself, you can also spray non-repellent insecticides on your plants and around your house. Similar to drenching, this may require multiple applications to fully get rid of the colony.
Do Ants Eat Flowers?
No, ants do not eat flowers. Ants frequently visit flowers for nectar, a sweet food source that offers a good deal of nutrients. Similar to leaves though, while ants don’t feed on flowers directly, it doesn’t mean that they can’t damage them.
Some ants may chew on different parts of flowers as they try to obtain nectar. They may sometimes dislodge the pistil and negatively affect seed production.
Do Ants Eat Grass?
Likewise, ants also don’t eat grass. Again though, they too can damage grass as they build their nests in soil. These nests produce mounds which may uproot grass and damage grass roots.
Grass leaves may also be targeted and cut down by leafcutter ants for their farms.
Summary: Do Ants Eat Leaves?
To summarize, no ants do not eat leaves. A group of ants called leafcutter ants however, are known to cut down, collect, and take back leaves to their nests. They do this not to consume the leaves, but to cultivate fungi which they then eventually feed on.