Ferns: Staghorn fern invaded by ants

Discussion in 'Plants with Spores (Ferns, Mosses, et al.)' started by slnewton, Jul 9, 2018.

  1. slnewton

    slnewton New Member

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    My Staghorn has recently been invaded by ants an I am unsure how to proceed. Has anyone had this problem before? Does someone have any advice on how to get rid of the ants without harming the Staghorn? Thanks in advance for your help!!
     
  2. Junglekeeper

    Junglekeeper Esteemed Contributor 10 Years

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    Do you know what species of Platycerium (staghorn fern) it is? Some species have a symbiotic relationship with ants. P. ridleyi and P. madagascariense are often cited but there may be others. Another possibility is the ants are there to farm a honeydew producing pest such as scale. Are there any pests on your plant? Or perhaps the ants are just using the shield fronds as a nest. Does the fern look any worse off with the ants present?
     
  3. slnewton

    slnewton New Member

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    Unfortunately I am unaware of the species of staghorn. I do know that it has never had ants before, this is why I am concerned. The ants have only been there a few days, 3-4, so thus far it looks fine. I am trying to be proactive in ridding the ant problem. I will see if I can figure out the species.
    Thank you
     
  4. wcutler

    wcutler Esteemed Contributor Forums Moderator VCBF Cherry Scout 10 Years

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    You can reply with a couple of photos - maybe someone will know it, and we can see the ants too, and how many you're talking about. Attach photos and files
     
  5. Junglekeeper

    Junglekeeper Esteemed Contributor 10 Years

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    Don't be hasty in getting rid of the ants; they may be beneficial for the plant. More information is needed.
     
  6. Junglekeeper

    Junglekeeper Esteemed Contributor 10 Years

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  7. slnewton

    slnewton New Member

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    Wow I never knew there were so many types, this is quite the eye opening experience.
    Someone, sorry I don’t remember who asked for some pics, you all are much more educated than I in this field. You can probably classify my staghorn better than I. The one is my plant, the other is an up close of the ants. You all are great, Thanks!!
     

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  8. Junglekeeper

    Junglekeeper Esteemed Contributor 10 Years

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    Your plant does not appear to be either of the two known to be associated with ants. Therefore I would assume it would do no harm to remove them. Since I have no experience growing these plants I defer to someone who does. However I did notice the following in the Care and Feeding section (Care and Feeding of Platyceriums) in the website above:
    Then there is this suggestion: Submerge Staghorn To Rid Fern Of Ants.

    I wonder if there is a pest other than the ants that is hidden under the shield fronds.; there are a number of fertile fronds that are yellow. There appears to be much information in the quoted site. Perhaps you'll find some ideas on how to improve the overall health of the plant.
     
  9. slnewton

    slnewton New Member

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    Thank you for the link regarding care and feeding, it has been a bit on the hot side here and I do need to get some supplements for the stag. I’m sure I can find some good advice in these articles, thank you.
     
  10. Castagmc

    Castagmc New Member

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    I am having the same problem! I just noticed the ants today and am not sure how long they have been on the plant. They seem to be eating small spots on the leaves. It sounds as though it may be ok to let the ants stay but I also dont want anything to happen to the plant. I'm not sure what type of staghorn this is but have included pics in case anyone is able to offer insight. Thank you in advance!
     

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  11. wcutler

    wcutler Esteemed Contributor Forums Moderator VCBF Cherry Scout 10 Years

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    This looks like scale. The bugs live under the scales, so you would need to scrape the scales off and try to wipe the much less visible bugs off the leaves. The suggestions to apply horticultural oil seem to be followed by a warning to then keep the plant out of the sun for a few days after the application. You need to keep at this every few days until you have removed all the new scales created by bugs you missed.
     
  12. Junglekeeper

    Junglekeeper Esteemed Contributor 10 Years

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    The information I quoted above (PESTS AND OTHER DAMAGE) recommends not using oil-based insecticides. A quick search turned up a warning from someone claiming horticultural oil will remove the waxy protective coating on the fronds. Exercise due diligence.
     
  13. Michigander

    Michigander Active Member

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    After reading this thread, I'm thinking I should run right out and get me one of these ant-haven, scale-hosting beauties! Scale is bad enough and hard to get rid of, but anything that will kill ants or spiders will kill mammals, too.
     
  14. Junglekeeper

    Junglekeeper Esteemed Contributor 10 Years

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  15. Margot

    Margot Generous Contributor 10 Years

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    There are many factors to consider before deciding whether the risk of using a pesticide outweighs the benefits of eliminating a problem but it's important to remember that the dose makes the poison. For example, the amount of boric acid needed to kill some species of ants wouldn't likely harm me (or my dog) in the quantity used.

    Personally, I am very tolerant of ants in my garden . . . I have several large thatching ant mounds that are fascinating to observe. However, when a large number of black ants took up residence in my home, I acted quickly, responsibly and eliminated them tout de suite. If I had a problem with ants on a plant such as the staghorn fern under discussion here, I would try non-chemical strategies first . . . the idea of submerging the pot could yield positive results.
     
  16. wcutler

    wcutler Esteemed Contributor Forums Moderator VCBF Cherry Scout 10 Years

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    Are you tolerant of scale on your plants? Would you depend on the ants to keep the scale in check?
     
  17. Junglekeeper

    Junglekeeper Esteemed Contributor 10 Years

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    I believe the ants are actually farming the scale for the honeydew that they produce. So the ants are spreading the scale rather than controlling them.
     
  18. Margot

    Margot Generous Contributor 10 Years

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    What I was trying to imply when I said I would try non-chemical strategies first is that, if those measures did not get rid of the problem (ants), I would consider something else . . . that's what IPM is all about isn't it?

    A few years ago, I successfully eliminated scale on a Harry Lauder's Walking Stick (Corylus avellana 'Contorta') by religiously checking it every few days for new scales. It took a long time but I kind of enjoyed the challenge. If I had not been successful, I'm not sure what I would have done next . . . even though ants were not involved. Because my shrub was fairly old and large, I'd probably have tried the least toxic chemical solution - whatever that may have been.
     
    Last edited: Dec 16, 2018
  19. Michigander

    Michigander Active Member

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    Is this an example of intensive farming or biodiversity? Are the ants the good guys, or the bad guys?
     
  20. Margot

    Margot Generous Contributor 10 Years

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    Neither - the ants are just taking advantage of an opportunity for a sweet meal. I doubt they would be there otherwise . . . so the problem for the plant is the scale insects, not the ants. Whereas ants are reported to introduce aphids to host plants to 'farm' their honeydew, I've never heard they do the same for scale . . . so, if the scale can be eliminated, the ants will likely disappear.

    It is interesting however that the staghorn fern infested with ants described by slnewton does not seem to have scale - only ants. It's hard to imagine how ants could be beneficial to the plant unless it happened to be one of those which have a symbiotic relationship with staghorn ferns. At the same time, they may not be harming it either.

    If you are still following this thread, slnewton, could you let us know if you have tried to rid the plant of ants by submerging it in water as suggested by Junglekeeper: Submerge Staghorn To Rid Fern Of Ants. If so, I think we'd all be interested to hear how successful that may have been.
     
  21. DrDave

    DrDave New Member

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    Sorry I'm late to the conversation... I found this forum because I had ants in my Platycerium superbum and was curious as to how others control ants in staghorns. Lots of layers to the question about ant control... possible ant-plant symbiosis, human toxicity of chemical control agents, plant toxicity of oil-based control agents, ants vectoring other pests, etc. For specimens I have growing outside (southern California) I don't really worry about ants, unless they are "farming" scale. My most recent problem involves an ant infestation in a specimen in my house, which recently was invaded by either the little black ant or odorous house ant (haven't keyed it out yet... these are the typical little black ants we get in our homes during hot dry spells in So. Cal.). I don't mind a few ants here and there (better than filling my house with toxins to control them), but when I put the fern in the sink to water it, hundreds of ants came pouring out of the plant, many carrying larvae, so it was clear that they had begun to nest in my fern. I have successfully rid my house of ant infestations with Terro "bait" in the past (Terro is a borax-based ant killer), so I stuck a Terro "container" in the specimen (hidden so that it couldn't be seen), and the ants were absent the next time I watered (8-10 days) and much of the bait was gone. Terro is a liquid bait in a convenient plastic container which I usually locate at the site where I see ants entering my house, and rarely have ant infestations... about the only time they are numerous enough to bother me is when they are searching out sources of water during hot, dry spells. My neighbors pay outrageous fees for "pest control" companies to "rid their houses of ants" (usually on a bi-monthly basis), but Terro keeps my house ant-free for a few dollars a month. I don't work for or get compensated by Terro ... just relaying a safe, easy "fix" for ants in staghorns (or other plants) in the house or outside (I only use it outside if they appear to be farming scale). Like I said, outside I don't worry about ants much, and think that ants living in the "rootball" of stagnorns might actually be beneficial (not like the obligatory symbiotic relationships mentioned earlier)... they are part of natural decomposer ecosystems, and don't seem to bother the various staghorn species I have in my yard (one specimen is almost 20 years old and weighs over 50 pounds... it has always had ants living in the "rootball" and is doing fine).
     
  22. Junglekeeper

    Junglekeeper Esteemed Contributor 10 Years

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    Thank you for your input on the subject. I applaud your practical approach in dealing with the problem.
     
  23. Margot

    Margot Generous Contributor 10 Years

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    Keep in mind that Borax (aka sodium borate, sodium tetraborate, or disodium tetraborate) is also a toxic chemical.
     
  24. DrDave

    DrDave New Member

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    I understand. However, what I like about Terro is that the Borax is mixed with a viscous sugary solution, and is housed inside a plastic container not much larger than a stack of a few credit cards. You open the end and ants enter the container, fill up their crops with the solution, and carry it back to their nest. You have to be careful to place it where pets and kids can't access it (fairly easy to do for wall mounted ferns), but it is about he least hazardous method of controlling occasional outbreaks of ants that I have found. It's the only pesticide that I use in my house, and I use it very sparingly. Compared to other pesticides mentioned in this thread, and compared to the chemicals most people reach for when they see ants, I feel it is the best chemical control method available. I'm an entomologist, and have worked for decades to end the use of malathion and other toxic chemicals, so I always favor biocontrol and other non-toxic alternatives. But thank you for pointing out that even Borax is not without risk. I would refer everyone to the Environmental Working Group for information about toxicity of this and other control mechanisms. As always, tolerance and co-existance with our fellow arthropods are preferred!
     
  25. Margot

    Margot Generous Contributor 10 Years

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    I'm completely onside with what you say @DrDave. You don't hear much about Integrated Pest Management (IPM) these days but I still like the step-by-step method of analysing and monitoring a problem before choosing the least toxic method of dealing with it.

    From what I see online, it looks like Terro is also available in Canada; something I would consider buying if I had a similar problem to yours.

    Integrated Pest Management - Province of British Columbia
     

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