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Texas Leaf Cutter Ants

( Atta texana )

Characteristics

SIZE: Leaf cutter ant colonies contain a dozen or more different worker sizes ranging from one-eighth of an inch to five-eighths of an inch in length.

COLOR: These ants are reddish-brown in color.

BEHAVIOR: Leaf cutter ants are true farmers because they harvest the leaves of plants. They use leaves as fertilizer to grow the specialized fungus that serves as the colony's food source. Workers forage at night, and when a suitable tree or shrub is found, the workers swarm over it, cutting circular-shaped pieces from leaves. These pieces are dropped to the ground where other workers pick them up and return to the colony. There, the leaf pieces are cut into tiny bits and carried into the colony to add to the fungus gardens. Foraging trails may extend several hundred feet from the nest site, so a colony located on one property can be preying on the trees and shrubs of another. A small tree or large shrub can have all its leaves stripped in a single night.

Habitats

The Texas leaf cutter ant is found in south-central Texas from San Antonio to Dallas. It may occasionally be found eastward from there through East Texas and into Louisiana. Nests are constructed in the soil and can be quite large if located in an undisturbed field or wooded area. Nests covering 1,000 square feet in size, and numbering more than one million ants, have been recorded. Nests may also extend 15 or more feet underground and are recognized by the crater-shaped mounds surrounding the entrance holes.

Tips for Control

Leaf cutter ants are controlled through the use of ant baits, although in some cases, getting the ants in a particular colony to take the bait may require persistence and timing. Treatment of vulnerable trees and shrubs with a product labeled for such plants may help deter ants from attacking the leaves. A licensed tree/shrub professional should handle such treatments.

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