The story of pesky leaf cutter ants!

2945610492_fc0356eab6“The ants go marching one by one…” goes the famous nursery rhyme describing the brilliant teamwork and management skills possessed by ants. Although small, these bugs are a remarkable example of working together. Each tiny ant labors diligently in constructing its colony. Even a single ant makes a huge and significant difference. The leaf-cutter ants are one such type.

Leafcutter ants, a non-generic name, are any of 47 species of leaf-chewing ants belonging to the two genera Atta and Acromyrmex. Leaf Cutter Ants originate mainly in the USA. They are found in eastern and south central Texas. They also can be found in parts of western Louisiana and are considered an agricultural pest.

Leaf cutter ants have mainly three body parts-the head, thorax, and abdomen, with jointed legs, antennae and an exoskeleton, similar to the hardness of an adult human’s fingernails. Their exterior colors range from orange, brown, red or black typically depending on geographical area. Their sharp mandibles allow the ants to cut pieces of leaves from plants and trees. Leafcutter ants live in huge colonies on the forest floor. They vary in size and appearance depending on their role within the colony. These physical differences are so large that it is hard to believe that ants in the same colony are actually the same species. Some ants are large; some are small; some have wings, and some have big mandibles! Their colonies are very complex, and every ant has a specialized role to play within the colony. Another very interesting fact about the leaf cutter ants is that they live in colonies that can contain over eight million insects!  Most of the ants in a colony are workers, but they often have different jobs depending on their body size. The smallest ants, called minims, grow the fungus food and watch over eggs the queen ant has laid. The very largest worker ants, called majors, go out to collect bits of plants and defend the colony from intruders.

Over the years, leaf cutter ants have gained the nickname of “fungus farmers” from the scientists who have closely studied them. This is due to the fact that the ants do not actually eat the leaves they gather into their nest; they ‘farm’ with them and grow mushroom-type fungus to feed on. These ants tuck the bits of leaves into their tunnels and wait for the fungus to grow. Then they harvest and eat it. Leafcutter ants can carry more than 50 times their body weight and cut and process fresh vegetation like leaves, flowers, and grasses to serve as the nutritional substrate for their fungal cultivars.

In some parts of their range, leafcutter ants can be a serious agricultural pest, defoliating crops and damaging roads and farmland with their nest-making activities. For example, some Atta species are capable of defoliating an entire citrus tree in less than 24 hours. One researcher in South America estimated that a large leaf cutting ant colony harvested approximately 13,000 pounds of leaves over a 6-year period. This same colony excavated 802 cubic feet of soil weighing over 44 tons. Considerable damage to a plant can occur in a few hours. Small- to medium-sized trees can be stripped in one night.

During the growing season, ants primarily feed on herbaceous plants and deciduous trees and shrubs. During the dormant season when these plants do not have live foliage, leaf cutter ants damage most species of southern pine trees. The ants prefer loblolly and shortleaf pine trees, though they will also damage slash and longleaf pine trees. The ants are particularly destructive to agricultural operations that grow pine seedlings for the lumber industry.

Let us have a look at the following news article:

Leaf Cutter Ants Chew up Photographer’s Camera Gear

June 8, 2016

“It’s not just the big guys you have to be worried about when setting up a camera trap in the jungle, you should probably look out for ants too” explains Naturalist Phil Torres

Torres is a biologist, conservationist, naturalist, and photographer, and he was in the Amazon rainforest with photographer Jeff Cremer of Rainforest Expeditions when they tried to set up a simple camera trap using a Canon 7D, an off-camera flash, and an IR sensor.

Everything was neatly bagged up to keep it out of the rain, and the gear was tested and in good condition. But when they arrived the next morning, they found all the bags and coverings gone, Jeff’s tripods and cables chewed up, and all of his gear waterlogged beyond saving.

The culprit? The tiny leaf cutter ants!

It turned out Cremer and Torres had set up the trap just a few feet away from the ants’ nest. Overnight, the ants came and cut the bags to pieces, chewed into the gorilla pods and cables, and left whatever gear was still working exposed to the elements so the rain could finish the job. In all, the ants caused about $2,800 worth of damage.

Looking for a sustainable solution? We at CTech Corporation have a solution to avoid the damages caused by these pesky ants. Termirepel™ anti-insect additive, a CTech Corporation product is the best solution for the prevention and control of insect infestations. It follows 6 tiered mechanism, which is extremely effective on insects like ants, termites, beetles etc. Termirepel™ masterbatch can be incorporated in agricultural films, mulches, greenhouse films etc. during polymer processing. The incorporation of our masterbatches into the films would keep the leaf cutter ants away from the crops which need to be protected.  Also Termirepel™ liquid concentrate can be added to paints which can then be applied to fencing, etc. for protection. Termirepel™ is a nontoxic and nonhazardous anti-insect additive. It is thermally stable and does not degrade on exposure to heat and sunlight. It does not kill or harm the insect but repels them. It does not volatilize and does not degrade the soil. It is RoHS, RoHS2, REACH compliant and FIFRA exempted.

Pesky whiteflies!

dscf3522Whiteflies, also known as Aleyrodidae, are soft-bodied, winged insects closely related to aphids and mealy bugs. These pests are omnipresent and they are so tiny that they are usually camouflaged. They can be as small as 1/12 of an inch, somewhat triangular in shape, and are often found in clusters on the undersides of leaves.

Whiteflies tend to suck on ornamentals and warm-weather vegetable plants, including tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, and okra. They also like sweet potatoes and plants from the cabbage family. They suck plant juices and produce a sticky substance known as honeydew which can cause fungal diseases in leaves! This, in turn, leads to weakening of plants and also in some cases the plants may not be able to carry out photosynthesis. Leaves turn pale yellow and there is deterioration in the plant quality. In addition to this ants get attracted to the honeydew causing further damage.

Whiteflies are capable of overwintering and reproducing throughout the year in warmer climates. Many times the whiteflies lay eggs on the undersides of leaves. This is the beginning of a new generation! When the eggs hatch, the larvae looks like teeny white ovals without legs; they don’t move but they immediately start sucking the plant juice. This is why gardeners miss the whiteflies until it’s too late. Adult females can produce up to 400 eggs, which can hatch in between one week and a month.

In the year 2015, about two-third of Punjab’s cotton crop was destroyed by whiteflies causing an estimated loss of Rs 4,200 crore. There were reports of at least 15 cotton farmers committing suicide. Punjab had nearly 12 lakh acres under cotton and almost all of it was BT cotton. Over the years the whitefly attacks and population had been controlled by extensive use of chemical pesticides. The farmers had sprayed pesticide for about 10-12 times in a period of two months. Each spray had a cost of about Rs 3,300 per acre. But the whitefly was unaffected. On investigation, it was concluded that the whiteflies had developed a resistance to the commonly used pesticides.

Let us look at some other recent news where these pesky pests have been found guilty of destroying valuable produce.

Whitefly populations explode on Georgia fall vegetables

 By Kyle Dawson, November 5, 2016, University of Georgia, USA

Whitefly populations in South Georgia have exploded over the past several weeks, troubling vegetable producers during the fall growing season. University of Georgia horticulturist Tim Coolong said growers must be up to date on spray programs, though combating whitefly populations of this magnitude will still be difficult. In some cases, it might be impossible to stop whiteflies before they spread viruses.

The damage and loss caused by these tiny whiteflies are huge! We cannot afford this significant amount of crop damage caused by pests like whiteflies. There is an urgent need for a sustainable solution.

Termirepel™ anti-insect additive, a CTech Corporation product is the best solution for the prevention and control of insect infestations. Termirepel™ masterbatch can be incorporated in agricultural films, mulches, greenhouse films etc. during polymer processing. It can also be incorporated in silage bags and packaging films to protect the crops in the post-harvest stage from pest damage.

Termirepel™ lacquer can be added to paints which can then be applied to fencing, etc. It follows 6 tiered mechanism, which is extremely effective on insects like whiteflies, ants, beetles, grasshopper, termites etc. Termirepel™ is a nontoxic and nonhazardous anti-insect additive. It is thermally stable and does not degrade on exposure to heat and sunlight. It does not kill or harm the insect but repels them. It does not volatilize and does not degrade the soil. It is RoHS, RoHS2, REACH compliant and FIFRA exempted.