The proverbial picnic scene aside, ants are pests all of us have to deal with from time to time. Both inside and outside our homes, they feed on and contaminate our food, they build ugly mounds on our lawns, and some ants can inflict painful bites or stings.
Several species of ants are found in Florida. The most common can be grouped into three categories: House-infesting ants, yard infesting ants, and carpenter ants. In this article we’ll talk about ant biology and behavior and how to control them.
Florida Carpenter Ants. Photo credit: UF/IFAS.
Ants have a life cycle similar to many other insects. They go from egg, to larva, to pupa, to adult. Eggs are almost microscopic in size and hatch into soft legless larvae. The pupa resembles the adult ant, except it is soft, uncolored and immobile. It can take from six weeks to two months from egg to adult.
Ants are social insects. They live in colonies much like bees do. Most colonies have a queen ant, male ants, and worker or female ants. Colonies are started by queens, whose primary function is reproduction. The queen may live for many years and is usually replaced by a daughter queen. Males are produced in very old or large colonies, and their sole function is to mate with the unfertilized female, after which, they die. Worker ants construct, repair and defend the nest, provide food for the colony, and take care of the young ants.
Most ants are omnivorous, which means they will eat anything, through some do have specialized food habits. Ants locate food by random searching; when one ant finds food, she informs the other workers in the colony. The exact method of communication is unknown, but in some cases, ants can leave scent trails that other ants can follow to the food source.
Because ants are attracted to any type of food or food particles, your best bet to controlling ants inside your home is to keep it very clean. Store food in airtight containers. Never substitute insecticides for inadequate housekeeping.
The key to eliminating ants is locating and destroying the colony. Sometimes this can be a real problem, because ants are very adaptable. Outdoor nesting species can sometime nest indoors and vice versa, depending, on the food supply.
To find the ant colony, you have to watch the movement of the ants very closely. Outdoors, many ants are easy to locate, because they deposit earth on the soil surface, and form ant hills. But some outdoor ants build nests under house foundations, in decaying logs, and tree trunks. These can be difficult to locate indoors. Ants may nest in walls, behind baseboards, in cracks, and in decaying wood.
Spray, dusts, granules, and baits can be useful in controlling ants. When using these products, treat baseboards, door and window frames, and cracks and crevices between walls and flooring. Treat all areas where ants appear to have trails. If the nest is located, apply an insecticide to the nest according to the pesticide label.
For more information:
Summer is here, along with its heat, humidity, drought and stress! One easy way to garden during summer is to use succulents and other drought adapted plants.
The sea urchin cactus (Echinopsis spp.) produces large, stunning flowers.
Succulents are heat-adapted, water-efficient plants often associated with deserts and dunes. Usually succulents have thick leaves or stems that store water. A cactus is a familiar type of succulent, as are agave, aloe, yucca as well as bromeliads like dyckia. Other dry-adapted plants can retreat into bulbs, rhizomes or other thick plant parts to go dormant until rains resume. A few other strategies used by plants to save water include: waxy or hairy coverings to reduce water loss; extensive root systems to absorb water; and silver- or blue-colored leaves and stems to reflect light and reduce heat.
Succulents’ tough qualities make them well-adapted to the harsh conditions of urban living amid concrete, brick, asphalt and other “hardscapes”. This adaptability translates into low maintenance since they need little or no irrigation, fertilization, pruning or spraying. Do you like container gardens? Succulents are almost the perfect container plant, because they hardly ever need watering!
The American century plant (Agave americana) is a large growing succulent with silver-grey leaves.
Above and beyond their toughness, succulents capture our imaginations because they are often dramatic, dangerous and slightly unpredictable. Drama stems from the architectural forms of many thick-leaved plants like agave. Danger arises from the thorns and spines of plants like cactus. Unpredictability results from bulbs and perennials that can quickly explode into flower, and then disappear just as suddenly. Often succulents have outrageous flowers with wild, bold colors and strange shapes!
While many succulents are native to deserts, others are Florida natives where they can be found in coastal dunes or in areas with sandy soils that have little water-holding capacity. For example, many native yuccas are excellent succulents for use in dry gardens or in containers.
For best growth and appearance, most succulents require well-drained soil and full sun (at least 6 hours of direct sunlight per day). Succulents are ideal plants for garden beds near roads, sidewalks, driveways and south-facing walls because they tolerate limited soil moisture, higher soil pH and reflected heat and light usually associated with these areas. On the other hand, try to avoid planting succulents in shady areas, wet areas, low areas that collect water and areas with heavy soils.
Summer gardening is easy with succulents!
For more information:
Agave and Yucca: Tough Plants for Tough Times
Everyone with a landscape can make a difference for pollinators. Simply Having Areas Reserved for the Environment enables homeowners, land managers, farmers, individuals, corporations, schools, roadside managers, and golf courses to increase the number of pollinators in the area by making conscious choices to include plants that provide essential habitat for bees, bats, birds, butterflies, moths, beetles, and hummingbirds. What better time than during National Pollinator Week, June 15-21, 2015.
Initiated and managed by the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign, National Pollinator Week was unanimously approved and designated by the U.S. Senate in 2007. Each year since, the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture has signed the proclamation in an effort to address the urgent issue of declining pollinator populations.
Worldwide there is evidence that pollinating animals have suffered from loss of habitat, pesticide misuse, competition from invasive species, disease, and parasites. Many pollinators are federally “listed species”, meaning that there is documented information confirming the disappearance and/or significant population reduction in natural areas. The United States has lost over 50% of its managed honeybee colonies over the past ten years. The European Union has been so concerned that they invested over $20 million investigating the status of pollinators in Europe.
Pollinator health affects everyone. Worldwide, roughly 1,000 plants grown for food, beverages, fibers, spices, and medicines need to be pollinated by animals in order to produce the goods on which we depend. Food and beverages produced with the help of pollinators include: apples, blueberries, chocolate, coffee, melons, peaches, potatoes, pumpkins, vanilla, almonds, and tequila. In the U.S., pollination by honey bees, native bees, and other insects produces $40 billion worth of products annually.
The native plants that can be identified and preserved or introduced include trees, shrubs, vines and perennials. Some of them include: Eastern Redbud (Cercis canadensis), Highbush Blueberry (Vaccinium spp.), Passionflower (Passiflora spp.), Coreopsis (Coreopsis spp.), Goldenrod (Solidago spp.), Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta), and Butterfly Milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa). Simply identifying and avoiding damaging many of the existing native plants will allow anyone to provide important homes and food for many different pollinating animals. During National Pollinator Week S.H.A.R.E. your space.
For additional information:
UF Native Buzz
Gardening for Pollinators
Minimizing Honey Bee Exposure to Pesticides
The Xerces Society
Uninvited guests can sometimes be fun and entertaining, bringing spontaneity to an otherwise predictable schedule. Sometimes the surprise guest is just an unpleasant distraction with no redeeming virtues.
The unanticipated knock on the door can bring both scenarios to mind. Almost everyone has an enjoyable cousin who regales listeners with amusing tales, and picks up the check for dinner.
Likewise, there are those potential callers with parasitic qualities, the appetite of a market hog, and initiative of a sloth. The Eastern Tent Caterpillar is one such visitor in north Florida.
These native caterpillars build large, thick nests on the branch forks and crotches of many kinds of trees, seeming to always choose the prized specimens highly valued by the homeowner. The silky tent shaped nests are easy to see and identity in host trees.
The caterpillars emerging in the spring of 2015 were laid in the spring of 2014. The adult moth lays her eggs in a single batch in May to July in the panhandle. There are 200 to 300 eggs laid in the group.
The mass of eggs are shiny, reddish-brown and look like dried foam. They are ordinarily about six inches back from the tip of a thin twig in host tree.
In approximately three weeks the eggs contain fully formed caterpillars, but the small caterpillars remain in the eggs until the following spring.
In late-February to mid-March they chew their way through their egg shells ready to eat their host tree that is entering the spring budding period with plentiful tender vegetation.
The voracious larvae immediately infest and, if in sufficient numbers, defoliate plum, cherry and many others. Normally the trees recover after a few weeks, but weakened or diseased trees may die.
When not eating, the newly hatched caterpillars construct their silk tent. The caterpillars use a pheromone trail to guild them back home when foraging is done.
A social insect, the eastern tent caterpillars congregate at their specific tent during the night and in rainy weather, expanding it to accommodate their growing size. These caterpillars do not feed within their nests.
The caterpillars disperse to colonize new areas when maturity is reached. They construct cocoons in protected places once they have sufficiently scattered.
Birds are not attracted to these hairy caterpillars. If they have a heavy concentration of black cherry leaves in their diet, the caterpillars will have a bitter acrid taste.
Parasitic wasps and weather are the two most common causes of caterpillar death. These caterpillars are especially susceptible to cold weather once they have emerged from their eggs.
About two weeks later, an adult moth emerges to begin the process again. Mating and egg laying commonly occur within 24 hours of the moths emerging from their cocoons
These brown moths are nocturnal and are seen flying only at night. They are an inch to two inches wingtip to wingtip at maturity and easy to overlook.
Tent Caterpillars are quick to hatch and eat their way through home landscapes.
Unfortunately, once they arrive for a visit they always overstay their welcome.
Contact your local UF/IFAS County Extension Office to learn more about Eastern Tent Caterpillars in north Florida.
Every landscape manager and homeowner, especially on the gulf coast, wants to add a tropical feel to their landscape. One way to achieve this is to incorporate palms and other tropical plants into planting beds. Like any other plant, proper care is key to success. The improper care of palms stems from a lack of knowledge about the unique physiology and needs of palms. Palm care practices such as installing and pruning could be improved in Northwest Florida. University of Florida has some great resources available to homeowners and green industry professionals on palm care and maintenance. Let’s hit some highlights and use these tips to improve palm care in northwest Florida.
First, installation is very important with palms, as it is with all plants. One practice that ultimately results in death to a palm is planting too deeply. Some have done this in the past to help secure the palm from falling over. This may seem like a good idea but will harm the plant in many ways. Look at these two palms that were planted at the same time, do you see the difference?
Make sure that when you plant, dig the hole twice as wide as the rootball and only as deep as the rootball is tall. For support, build a supporting structure but do not nail directly into the trunk (this will allow an entry point for disease). Once planted, water the palm in thoroughly, ensuring that all the air pockets are filled If the fronds are tied up, untie them as soon as your palm is planted.
The next issue that faces many homeowners and landscape professionals is how to prune palms. Many prune a palm too severely for a variety of reasons. Take a look at this palm below for an example of a palm that has been pruned too drastically.
Follow the 9 to 3 clock rule, only pruning below the horizontal line of the crown of the palm. If you follow this rule you will generally be pruning correctly.
Read more about pruning, installing and general palm information for northwest Florida.
Photo Credits, University of Florida.