The dog days of summer are upon us, and everywhere folks are packing up and heading to the great outdoors. Pools, beaches, parks, and yards fill up with people taking advantage of the sunshine and warm weather. For some, summer time means picnics. There’s nothing quite like spreading out a blanket, sitting back, and enjoying a meal out on the grass. Unfortunately this picture-perfect scene often comes to an abrupt halt once it’s discovered that ants have invaded the picnic basket and are helping themselves to your potato salad, cookies, and watermelon slices. In a panic, the picnic is gathered up and taken indoors; another victory for the local ant population. But apart from the annoying reputation they have of ruining picnics, what kind of impact do ants actually have on our lawns and gardens? To find out, I decided to try a unique approach and interview one. After some bribing with a half-eaten doughnut, I was able to find an ant that would discuss the ongoing feud between ants and humans.
Nature’s Finest Seed: Thanks for being with us today. So tell us a little about yourself.
Ant: Good to be here. I’m what you’d call a worker ant. I’m one of thousands of wingless females that were hatched from eggs laid by our queen. Our purpose is to maintain the colony at all costs. This means we construct and repair the nest, defend the colony from attacks, and most importantly find food. Some of our favorite foods are lawn grubs and other bugs which you humans call pests.
Nature’s Finest Seed: You guys eat lawn grubs? Lawn grubs are one of the most damaging lawn pests out there.
Ant: Exactly. Not only this, but our tunnels actually help to aerate the soil. In fact, our aerating abilities are comparable to earthworms. I think our reputation as pests comes from the ant hills that we sometimes create on the soil surface. Humans find our ant hills make their lawns lumpy in spots. But I’ll tell you what; if humans would just maintain a healthy lawn it would be a whole lot less tempting to create these mounds in the first place. It’s very difficult for us to live and work between the thatch layer. We ants love bare spots and thinning areas in lawns. If there’s no bare or thin spots, our populations will stay low enough you’ll barely notice us.
Nature’s Finest Seed: True, the best way to avoid all lawn problems is to maintain a healthy lawn. That’s interesting you guys help aerate the soil. So from the sound of it you ants really don’t cause any major problems. In fact it sounds like you’re actually a great biological control for real lawn pests and even help aerate the soil. But what happens when your population levels grow so much that you begin to cause damage and start invading our homes?
Ant: Give us a break! We’re just trying to survive too. Keep your homes clean and tidy and we won’t be tempted to break in. You could use chemical control on us, but that’s generally a last resort since there are other less damaging ways to get rid of us. Just between you and me, if you can take out our queen you can usually destroy the colony. Once the queen is dead we lose our cohesiveness. I’ve heard of other colonies being taken out by boiling water. Also, if you rake down our ant hills, after a few times we usually decide to just move on. See, there’s no need for chemicals.
Nature’s Finest Seed: Wow, thanks for being so open with us. Is there anything else that scares you and your fellow ants away?
Ant: Yep. Birds. Birds like to eat us you see, so yards with lots of wildflowers that attract birds are a big turn off for us. By the way, if our hills really do bug you, just mow your grass a bit higher and you’ll never even know we’re there.
Nature’s Finest Seed: Can you tell us a little about your cousin, the fire ant.
Ant: Wow, now there’s a mean character. Unlike us regular ants, fire ants are very aggressive. Their stings can cause irritation, nausea, and even severe reactions in some humans. Fire ants are mostly found in the southern states, but they are now being found further north. Because they are so aggressive, don’t even try disturbing their mounds.
Nature’s Finest Seed: That’s good to know. In that situation it would be best to call a local cooperative extension office. Thank you very much for your time. Are there any final thoughts you’d care to share with us today?
Ant: Yeah, just because you might find us occasionally in your lawn or on your sidewalk doesn’t mean we’re hurting your grass or anything else. We play an important role in the ecosystem. In small populations we’re actually quite beneficial to lawns. Please don’t spray us with chemicals just because we’re there.
Nature’s Finest Seed: Agreed. Thanks for clearing up some misconceptions with us.
Ant: Thanks for the doughnut.