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New ants are coming to town

November 10, 2017
By JOYCE COMINGORE - Garden Club of Cape Coral , Cape Coral Daily Breeze

Welcome to Paradise. Most of us moved here because Florida has a warm, moist climate, particularly, Southwest Florida. Guess what - so do insects, especially ants. There are so many types of ants and at least 50 other non-native ant species, coming from South America, Africa, Asia, Mexico and other warm countries. They crawl, scurry, sting and bite, invading our kitchen and bathroom counters and any areas where stray food particles may have landed. We have Argentine ants, carpenter, crazy, red (so called because they are a browner orange color), imported fire, ghost, leafcutter, odorous house, pavement and pharaoh ants.

They have hitchhiked on boats, yachts, exotic pets and brought in in smuggled plants. There is a reason why we have plant protection quarantines for entries. No soil can enter. Too many insect hitchhikers. I know I have ants in my car from parking on my driveway, so I am transporting black ants around. Whether by boat, air breezes or land, insects arrive from elsewhere, as if we don't have enough of our own.

I was thinking about this problem because I have a dear friend who got bitten by fire ants in her own yard. She is allergic to their bites and her feet and ankles swell up. She wears boots when she goes to the gardens. I guess you could say she is lucky because it doesn't reach the point of anaphylactic shock and death, but it is painfully persistent. Ants also sting pets, livestock and wildlife.

When I first arrived in Florida, I had a dentist that was marvelous. He led me to have nothing to fear, so I went willingly twice a year. Then he tells me he is uprooting his family and moving to Minnesota. Shocked, I asked why the cold country of Minnesota? His answer was, "no fire ants!" They are enough to drive one away because you have children and a fair skinned wife.

That's not new to any of us, but then, this week's Master Gardener news brought an article about a nasty little yellow ant establishing its first U. S. colonies in Fort Lauderdale. There's a new ant coming to town! Can their foothold in southwestern Fort Lauderdale be close enough for them to migrate this way? The good news is - they don't bite or sting. The bad news is - they proliferate rapidly, by millions in super colonies, with thousands of egg-bearing queens.

So, I need to discuss what ants do for a living. My father was an agronomist with the government, a farmer by love and choice. He was raised on one and we always owned at least one farm besides our home in the city.

"Ants raise aphids, mealybugs and scale as their cows, they farm them, they bring them up the plant stalks, then milk the honeydew the insects produce," he told me more than once. They also have been found to protect the conduit for citrus greening, a real detriment to Florida's economy.

Difficult to eradicate once they establish a colony, not just one colony, but they send out queens, and have connecting colonies, forming super colonies. If you eradicate one colony, they just move over to their nearby one, making complete eradication impossible. They send out foraging parties, entering our homes so they can bring back food to their colonies. Even floods can't drown them out. You may have seen pictures of them forming huge balls and floating in a ball until they reach a dry area, and establish their colony all over again. I once found a line of ants, not yellow ones or fire ants, climbing up the front wall of my home by the front door. I watched them go up to the roof and into my attic. I assume they then entered my home through my electrical outlets, where I found several nests. My son-in-law will not let me have any plants that touch the roof of my home, no bushes or trees with limbs that reach over to my house. They are entry portals or bridges to entering my home.

These yellow ants were discovered by Thomas Chouvenc, a biologist at the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agriculture Sciences (IFAS). He specializes in termites and found yellow ants around his home, then discovered, they were all over his Riverland neighborhood. Since then, they have found evidence of little yellow ants throughout the world. Their home was originally on the African coast, Madagascar, then they spread by ships. Now, there are reports of them being in the Caribbean, greenhouses in England, Germany and Switzerland. How they got here is a subject of conjecture. Maybe yacht or small boat or in a potted plant. We have so many points of entry. Yellow ants sneak in on the root part of a plant where they've established a nest.

Right now, they don't know the range of established yellow ant colonies, figuring it's only a matter of time before they see the yellow ants all around becoming a permanent part of Florida's rich diversity and non-native ants.

I Googled yellow ants and found yellow crazy ants, Anoplolepis gracilipes. They don't bite or sting but are one of the largest invasive ant species in the world. "Crazy" comes from their erratic movements. A different scientific classification from the discovered yellow ant, Plagiolepis alluaudu.

So be on the look-out for yellow ants, please report it. IFAS is interested.

Thank a tree for our good life.

Joyce Comingore is a Master Gardener, hibiscus enthusiast and member of the Garden Club of Cape Coral.



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