Ant Cows

Today I observed that our citrus tree is being invaded by Ant cows. They seemed to appear just overnight, and already they are spreading like the plague, or flu.

“Ant cows” is just another name for plant lice; they are also known as Aphids and whiteflies. 101_7805Ant cows are small, soft-bodied, sap-sucking insects that feed on plant juices – attacking leaves, stems, buds, flowers, fruit, and roots. They are one of the most destructive insect pests.

Ant cows can weaken a plant, stunt its growth, cause leaves to curl or wilt, and delay fruit or flower production.
101_7799Aphids (Ant cows) excrete a sweet honey-like substance that is collected and eaten by ants. This substance, which is known as honeydew, is prized as food by ants, flies and bees.

I read that because of their love for honeydew, some species of ants have formed a relationship with Aphids. This relationship is likened to humans with cattle, hence their name Ant cows.101_7803These ants actually “farm” Aphids and protect them from predators such as lady bugs and spiders. They tend to them as herds and store Aphid eggs in their nests over the winter and then transport the newly hatched Aphids to plants/trees in the spring. In return, Aphids provide honeydew for the ants.

Ants “milk” Aphids by stroking them with their antennae.
101_7806You can often get rid of Ant cows (plant lice) by wiping or spraying the leaves of the plant with a mild solution of water and a few drops of dish-washing detergent.

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