05 February 2008


Gardeners of the world, unite with our tiniest gardening brethren: the fungus-gardening, leaf cutter ants, Atta texana. These fascinating critters harvest leaves and other plant matter, taking the stuff deep into their colony to serve as fertilizer for their fungus gardens. They only eat fungus, not leaves, and these gardeners figured out agriculture long before our ancestors did a mere 10,000 year ago.

Unfortunately for us, they've moved into the 'hood, and they can be MAJOR pests. Last summer, I watched them strip two large ornamental pear trees down the road in a matter of days. The same ones (pictured here) have staked a pheromone trail up our driveway, where they concern themselves with removing pieces of acorn and pecan nuts that have been crushed by our car. Very enterprising.

And like all great corporations, this one makes me nervous. I have a feeling their colony is growing bigger and bigger, and they could cause big problems this summer. What to do? Admire them? Sure, but eventually my neighbors and I may have to make a concerted attack back (none of the ant hills are in my yard). In the meantime, I'm keeping a wary eye on the buggers.

A Texas leafcutter ant carries a piece of acorn bigger than her body. Can you imagine carrying something around bigger and heavier than you? Amazing...


Annie in Austin said...

Wow - these Atta texana ants are both amazing and scary, Lee. Your link started me googling of course - some people are suggesting instant grits as a remedy.

They're supposed to need well-drained loam or sandy soil - maybe my black gunk will be deterrent enough?

Annie at the Transplantable Rose

[Good pun, Lee - have to answer with "Atta-boy"!]

Lee said...

good one annie! well, you're right about their preference for well-drained soil and sand. that's what is surprising about their appearance in our area. we have serious black clay (so hard i can barely dig into it sometimes). m

maybe they are finding old construction sand or something or other.

thanks for the tip on using grits. i do follow an organic program and don't like to use any pesticides or herbicides if possible.