Using the natural predators of ants against them can be an easy and clever way to deal with an ant infestation. They’ll keep you from having to use pesticides or other chemical solutions.
Of course, there’s a lot to consider before doing something like this because you don’t want to have to look for ways to get rid of ant predators later on.
Nevertheless, this can be an ingenious and effective solution to an ant problem. This is especially true when it comes to some of the more annoying or even dangerous types of ants, like fire ants. Finding a natural fire ant predator can be a great win for a farmer or a homeowner.
What is integrated pest management?
IPM, or integrated pest management, is a well-known strategy for dealing with insect pests. This strategy has been used for a long time to treat insect problems in an ecosystem-based manner. It relies heavily on biological control as well as habitat and human behavior modification. Chemical solutions (either natural or synthetic) are the secondary, rather than primary, line of defense. Using an IPM strategy for unwelcome ant species such as carpenter ants, fire ants, or any other pest is often worth considering.
The Most Common Natural Ant Predators
There are a lot of animals that eat ants. This list includes mammals, birds, lizards, and other insects, which is more than we can list in a quick article. Fortunately, for this article, we don’t need to list all of them since they can’t all be put to use on a property or in a garden. Even some of the more obscure choices are still worth mentioning, so here’s a quick list.
One of the biggest enemies of ants is other ants. Different ant species and colonies are always in competition with one another. For that reason, they will harass, raid, kill, or even enslave members of nearby colonies. While it may seem counterproductive to replace one ant colony with another, native ants can replace invasive species and less painful varieties can help drive fire ants out.
There are even parasitic ants like the Solenopsis daguerrei. The queens of this species invade the colonies of other ants. Then they sterilize and incapacitate the host queens and take their place in the colony. The workers feed the invading queen and take care of her larvae.
Many people might not be aware of the fact that some spiders eat ants. Most spiders eat a variety of things, including ants, while some spider species only eat ants. Others are in direct competition with ants. Black widow spiders, jumping spiders, lynx spiders, and several other species hunt and kill ants.
While not strictly a predator, phorid flies deserve a spot on this list for their habit of killing fire ants. These are parasites that lay their eggs in the bodies of fire ants. Their larvae then eat their way out of the ant, decapitating it in the process. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that phorid flies are often used as a natural pest control against fire ants. They’re not available to individuals, though. Only government agencies can purchase these flies for release.
The larval form of antlions, a winged insect, feast almost exclusively on ants, hence the name. Adult antlions resemble dragonflies but have shorter antennae. Larval antlions are sometimes called doodlebugs because of the doodles they leave on the sand. They leave these markings as they dig pits in which to hide and trap unsuspecting ants and other small insects.
This type of beetle lives in ant colonies. They spray defensive chemicals from their abdomens that make ants less aggressive. They either have the ants bring them food or they feed on larval ants.
Oogpister beetles eat ants and stockpile the formic acid gathered from the ants’ bodies. They then use this acid as a defense against potential predators.
These butterfly larvae have flexible shells that are completely impenetrable to ant jaws. They live in weaver ant nests and also have quite an insatiable appetite for young ants.
Alcon Blue Butterfly Caterpillars
The caterpillars of the Alcon blue butterfly take quite a different approach. These caterpillars mimic the scent of ant larvae to trick worker ants into feeding them. The workers feed the caterpillars more than their own young. With these tactics, Alcon blue butterflies can quickly deplete the resources of an entire ant colony. There is, however, evidence that ants may begin to recognize these parasites if tricked too many times.
Members of this wasp family leave their larvae on plants near ant colonies. From there, the larvae attach themselves to passing ants and are carried to the nest. Like the Alcon blue butterfly, they emit a scent much like that of their ant hosts, convincing the ants to feed them. Before the ants realize they’ve been feeding a baby wasp, the wasp has already flown away.
There are a lot of common backyard birds that are great for pest control. Woodpeckers, chickadees, and nuthatches are just a few of many that are welcomed to gardens for just this reason. Most of these birds will feed on beetles, snails, grasshoppers, aphids, flies, moths, and other insects, including ants. You simply need to install several bird feeders and water bowls in your yard and wait for the flying exterminators to come around.
Many species of lizards – such as geckos, for example – love to feast on ants. If you don’t mind these small reptiles running around your yard, they serve as great ant-control weapons.
As their name suggests, anteaters eat ants. They also eat termites, beetles, insect larvae, worms, and fruit. Unless you live in a place where anteaters are native, however, they won’t be a realistic solution to your ant problem.
Dealing with an ant infestation can often be an annoying affair, just like ant prevention. Using the natural predators of ants as integrated pest management tools can sometimes be the smart way to go. Not all natural ant predators are a good choice, however, because some of them can be a nuisance in and of themselves.
Keep in mind that control and prevention are best done together. And, when all else is equal, natural solutions are almost always preferable to pesticides. This makes considering some of the ant predators on this list worth it.