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Ants -bibiagua in citrus and cafetals

/we have a plague of bibiagua ants - mainly in the citrus, but also in the cafetal. We can’t get commercial pest control - COVID and US embargo - what alternatives can anyone suggest? Our supplies of anything are really limited - I usually bring Boracic Acid from Mexico when I travel but… These ants are destroying everything in sight and there are huge mounds. Help please

Hi Kate, this subject comes up occasionally. Your ants are a different species of leaf-cutter ant but some of these suggestions from another conversation may be helpful – Leaf Cutter Ants--Boca Del Toro Island--Panama Especially see @Jason_Weigner 's contribution.

Thank you so much for you help - we have neem but at the moment all supplies (minimal) are being used to fight a plague in the beans!

This seems to be a long term battle! Perhaps Boracic Acid mixed with citrus and sugar? If we can ever get the Boracic Acid.

Kate Daley Cuba Beyond the Beaches Tours www.realcubaonline.com Real Cuba Jaguey
Tel in Cuba 53-22-659320

Hello Kate,
I don’t think there is any other creature I am totally fascinated with and also hate with a fiery passion! I have been battling them for years and searching for any solution I can find. The bad news is their colonies are so large it is nearly impossible to totally eradicate without resorting to extreme measures. The good news is there are ways to live with them and keep their numbers down. The note above that Bob linked to I went over some of the methods I’ve found. Another note, it’s important to understand what leaf cutters are primarily cleanup crew. The prefer to collect downed organic mater. They generally only resort to trees when they run out of suitable material on the ground. This often happens in areas developed by humans because we have a tendency to replace the local diverse ecosystem with a more simplified landscape, one that leaves the ants with nothing but our favorite trees to chew on. Planting a lot of native plants or trees that drop a lot of leaves around can be helpful to distract them from your fruit trees. I would love to hear about anything you find that works for you! I’m compiling any ideas I can find.

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Boric Acid does not work on leaf cutters. They are a totally different battle than regular ants. Poisons work on other ants because they actually eat the bait. Leaf cutters on the other hand feed primarily on the fungus they grow with the leaves the collect. They will occasionally munch on other things but their colonies number in the millions so a few munching on poison won’t make a dent. Now if you can get them to take toxins to their fungus gardens then that will knock their numbers down but they are very picky about what they feed their fungus so it is hard to get them to take what you want them to. I have also found Neem has very little effect on them if they really want a plant. I’ve even seen them cut Neem leaves on occasion! I’ll copy some things I’ve written on this before below:

  • Cotton: For protecting specific plants, a ring of cotton or similar substance (fluff from Silk Floss Trees, Ceiba species) gets caught in their feet so they hate crossing it. If you can tie it to the trunk of a tree it works best and down in the soil it gets matted down quickly.
  • Clutter their highway: You may have noticed they like neat, clean highways to their collections sites. Make your plants as hard to get too as possible: messy thick fibrous mulch, perennial peanut, water/oil barriers, etc.
  • Diverse/balanced ecosystem. They love a high diversity and density of plants to choose from. If you have a large wild space for them to choose from, it helps keep them away from your garden. Also having a high density and diversity in your garden spaces will help ensure that you don’t loose everything.
  • Distractions: You can specifically plant plants they really like to help distract them from your other plants. In my area they love Moringa, especially Moringa stenopetala. If you can protect the trees until they are fairly mature, they seem to be able to take a lot of damage from leaf cutters and then the ants leave many of your other plants alone. Putting a compost pile nearby also works. They love to walk off with your plant scraps.

-Poison: Poison doesn’t often work well because their colonies are huge and they don’t eat the poison like most ants. They eat the fungus they grow in their gardens underground. So killing the fungus is the goal but very difficult. Plants like Jack Bean and Sesame will kill their fungus however as soon as the ants catch on, they will never touch those plants again. Similarly with man-made poisons, they learn fast and will never touch it again.

-War/Peace: So I tend to make peace with them during wet season. They have lots of food to pick from and intentionally feeding them their favorites during this time keeps them away from my garden. During dry season however, food for their fungus becomes more scarce and they start taking everything in site. They are also most vulnerable during this time. This is when I launch all out war on them to try and knock the colony back. Boiling water down their nests, dropping toxic plants around their nest, encouraging nearby colonies to fight with each other, releasing natural predators or parasitic fungal spores, etc…

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Pesticides used for termites or ants will likely work if they are contact pesticides with some residual. You just put it on their mounds, particularly near their entrances. Organophosphates such as Acephate would likely work well. You need some rubber gloves and long sleeves and pants and rubber boots but you don’t need a sprayer if you don’t have one but you have to make sure that what you use to spread the pesticide is not used again for food or water and the pesticide is kept out of reach of children. Follow the label when mixing and proper protective gear. We have pesticides that can be used responsibly and they take very little time and sometimes you can get some from a friend or neighbor that already owns them for your application. There is now an unnecessary aversion to pesticides in many parts of the world that needs to be reconsidered in the light of potentially responsible management. Our food is composed of chemicals and some of them are potentially harmful if in large doses such as in certain type fo beans and green potatoes if not handled properly. So you can take care of an ant problem very quickly and then move on to other agricultural activities such as increasing income or discipleship when you have the quickest method of control.

Hello again - well the farm has acquired a packet of Blitz 0.003GB Insecticida phenylpyrazole fipronil - dry powder. Comes from Guatamala, but was sold in Mexico.

I haven’t had a chance to look it up to find out if it is really dangerous - but then so is stepping on a mound of these ants.

If anyone has used it - please advise how and what success. Jason in particular has warned that these ants are like something out of the late drive-in show! Someone recommended mixing dry chemicals with citric juice and sugar - reduced to a sticky mass - so that they would take it into their nests.

We often take tourists to spend time on a normal farm - and they always want to see the cafetal - not a happy visit if we have bibiaqua!

We are classified as organic for our coffee and don’t want to end up loosing that status fighting these ants.

Thank you all so much - its wonderful to have your help

Kate Daley Cuba Beyond the Beaches Tours www.realcubaonline.com Real Cuba Jaguey
Tel in Cuba 53-22-659320

Will the use of the chemical outside of your production area affect your organic status? The chemical listed above works for ants. Antifreeze may be another possibility but then you have to protect from pets and wildlife getting into it as it will kill them. You may be able to find boric acid in a pharmacy perhaps. You would have to apply it on bait or a food source.

Also consider oil barriers around their exit holes in their mounds or in their exit holes, any type of oil should help reduce population.

To get anti-freeze you need to be in a country which needs it - yesterday we were in the 30’sC by 10.30 - hot for us in April!!! Thanks for the ideas about the oil I will pass on to the farm.

Kate Daley Cuba Beyond the Beaches Tours www.realcubaonline.com Real Cuba Jaguey
Tel in Cuba 53-22-659320