Gardeners have often noticed aphids and ants together in gardens and wondered what their relationship is. Ants don’t actually harm aphids but will protect them as a source of honeydew. So can aphids survive without ants protecting them?
Aphids cannot survive without ants because ants protect them and keep them safe.
Ants will capture colonies of aphids and nurture them to keep them safe.
Aphids produce sweet nectar, which ants love. Therefore, ants like to keep aphids alive in exchange for the nectar. Ants will attack other insects like ladybugs which are natural predators of aphids.
As aphids are vulnerable and fall prey to almost every insect, they rely on ants to keep them alive.
Do Aphids Need Ants?
Aphids and ants share a special relationship in which they both rely on each other. Aphids are small insects that are vulnerable and do not have any defence mechanisms.
Therefore, it is easy for aphids to fall prey to many other insects. Hence, aphids need ants to keep them safe and alive.
Why Do Ants Protect Aphids?
Ants will capture groups of aphids and nip their wings so they cannot fly. Aphids produce sweet nectar, which ants love, and therefore, ants protect aphids.
The sweet nectar which aphids produce is called honeydew. Ants eat the honeydew and take it back to the larvae. Ants want aphids to stay alive, so they keep feeding on the honeydew.
After capturing the aphids, the ants will nurture them and ensure they are well-fed. Ants will even lick or tickle the aphids to encourage them to produce honeydew.
Some ant species take care of aphid eggs during the winter season. The ants will carry aphid eggs back to their nests and take care of them throughout the cold weather. The ants will keep the eggs and move them to different locations according to the changing weather.
When the aphid eggs hatch in the spring, the ants will take the aphid babies to a host plant to feed them. In addition, ants will prevent aphids from spreading and going too far and will cut their wings.
How to Control the Ant Farming Problem
If you have aphids, you will also have an ant problem. Therefore, it is important to control both populations because they encourage each other’s existence.
The best way to deal with a new aphid infestation is to hose down the aphids, so they fall to the ground. However, if the aphids survive the strong water sprays, the ants will take the aphids somewhere else and take them to new feeding grounds.
Therefore, getting rid of aphids is useless unless you also take care of the ant problem. You must track the ants to see if there is an ant nest and destroy it.
You can also use ant-eating nematodes in your garden or use bright flowers to attract predators to get rid of ants. Once you control the ant population in your garden, it can be easier to get rid of aphids.
In addition to using water to wash away the aphids, you can also purchase ladybugs that feed on aphids and release them on the infested plants.
Which Insects Are Predators to Aphids?
While ants are protectors of aphids, other insects prey on aphids and kill them. Some insects will feed on aphids because of the honeydew, while others will resort to looking for an opportunity to eat them.
The most popular predator of aphids are ladybugs which people use if they have an aphid infestation. Ladybugs love the honeydew which aphids produce; therefore, they will leave no opportunity to feed on aphids.
When ladybugs consume aphids, the ants protecting the aphids will attack the ladybug because they will go to great lengths to keep aphids safe.
Other insects also kill aphids, such as lacewings which are green and brown. The lacewings consume aphids and love the sweet nectar they produce. If you cannot find ladybugs to eat the aphids in your garden, you can use lacewings instead. If you choose to use lacewings, you should get them in larvae form so they live longer and work to eat aphids.
Soldier beetles have one thing in common with aphids which are their soft bodies. However, soldier beetles also feed on aphids, and you can also buy them if you have an aphid infestation.
Many other insects kill aphids, like the parasitic wasp, which lays its egg inside the aphid. After the egg hatches, the wash comes out of the host aphid, killing it in the process. Moreover, damsel bugs also kill aphids. However, they are not too common to find.
Aphids are annoying garden pests that cause harm to plants. The problem with aphids is not only the harm they cause but also that they spread quickly. Aphids jump from plant to plant.
However, apart from their fast reproductive process, they also get help from other insects. Ants and aphids have a symbiotic relationship in which they both help each other.
Aphids cannot survive without ants and would eventually wipe out if they did not share a symbiotic relationship.
Ants love the honeydew which aphids produce. The honeydew is food for ants and therefore captures aphids and keeps them safe. As aphids are small and vulnerable, they enjoy being under ants’ protection and therefore live longer lives.
Therefore, when you have an aphid infestation, it is best to get rid of ants. First, you must kill the ants or destroy any ant nest which you may find. Otherwise, they will nurture the leftover ants.
While ants keep aphids safe, other insects such as ladybugs, soldier beetles, and lacewings are predators to aphids.
Ryan is a keen gardener from the UK who’s spent years dealing with countless, common pests over the years so knows the ins and outs of how to deal with pests in the garden