ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Ants in the garden? They're on your side

Updated on October 26, 2009

Built in pest control

Ants are an acquired taste for most gardeners. Coming from a country where we have ants called bullants which are nearly 3 inches long and will try to intimidate and stare down humans, I can sympathize. There’s another side to ants, though, and it’s worth considering how they can help out in the garden.

Unless they’re unforgivable, garden vandalizing pests like fire ants, the balance works out in favor of having the ants, rather than exterminating them. Most ants are actually very effective predators of garden pests.

It’s recently been discovered that the innocuous little black ants common around the world, a type called Iridomyrmex, are shift workers. One species clocks on, another clocks off, during the day. These are ferocious, go-anywhere predators, and few other insects will approach them. So their round the clock shift work figures out as good insurance against a range of pests. They’re an active deterrent in the garden.

Each species of ant has a few peculiarities which can help gardeners. Some are tree specialists, happily wiping out caterpillars, grubs, and other nuisances which can infest the garden and obliterate new growth. Other ants are such active foragers that their mere presence will deter other insects. They’re best considered as a long term method of pest control.

Some species also regulate the movements of other ants. There’s one species of ant in Australia, Iridomyrmex purpurea, or the “meat ant”. It doesn’t even have a sting, but these guys are so ferocious, and attack in such numbers, that I’ve seen bush trails where they’re on one side of the track and every other species of ant is on the other. Even the big bullants don’t make a habit of tangling with them.

A few species of ant are only too happy to try to attack termite mounds. Those meat ants, in particular, don’t mind puree of termite for their food supply, and where the ants and termites mix, the termites have a hard time making any headway. If you’ve ever wondered why termites need a soldier caste, the main reason is ants.

Ants are also excellent, thorough, cleaners in the garden. Anything which is protein or carbohydrate based is all food to them, and they can keep a garden spotless on the microscopic scale, clearing up things which can attract pests. If you consider how much material gets deposited in the garden in a week, you can see how useful this role is for gardeners.

As general bug-removers, ants can deal with anything unless it’s a heavy duty proposition like a beetle or citrus bug, which is so toxic they can’t handle it. They’ll also eat eggs and larvae of garden pests on a large scale, and will investigate the garden much more thoroughly than any human for infestations of this type.

Some ants, particularly the aggressive stinging species, can make a garden completely uninhabitable for undesirables like nesting rats and mice, because they’ll attack the young.

The negative sides of ants boil down to comparatively minor issues. The aphid keepers, for example, may need some persuasion that their aphid herds have to go. A few informative sprays of the aphids will convince them they’re in the wrong business. Unless there are aphids around, they revert to normal ant work, so no harm done.

They do eat earthworms, but on an opportunistic basis. Unless flooded out, the worms are invulnerable, so install some drainage in the garden beds to keep your earthworms safe. They’ll also attack and deter snails and slugs driven out by flooding if they can, and don’t get much credit for that. Better to have a lot of ants on your side than a lot of smug, secure slugs and snails.

Some ants are seed eaters, but quite harmless to seedlings. If you have self seeding plants, just make sure you harvest before the ants get interested.

The moral of the story is that unless ants are an actual problem, leave them alone. They’re much more of an asset than a liability.


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • Paul Wallis profile imageAUTHOR

      Paul Wallis 

      8 years ago from Sydney, Australia

      This actually ought to be part of garden training. The amount of useless, destructive "work" alone is such a waste, and so counterproductive.

    • Bob Ewing profile image

      Bob Ewing 

      8 years ago from New Brunswick

      Ants, another of the gardener's helpers.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)