WSU Extension



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Caption: Worker ant (Formicidae)
Photo by: D.G. James
Ants : Ants
(revision date: 10/11/2018)

Every home garden has ants and like spiders these creatures engender fear and loathing in some people. Ants indoors are clearly a problem but outdoors they have an important place in garden ecology and many species play an important role as scavengers or controlling pests. Other species prefer to collect sweet substances like honeydew produced by some pest insects like aphids. These ants ‘protect’ honeydew-producers from their natural enemies and therefore disrupt biological control. Fortunately, in the Pacific Northwest predatory ant species tend to outnumber honeydew-collectors, so ants are generally good for the home garden.

Prey or Pest Targeted
  • Aphids, mites, thrips, leafhoppers, centipedes, millipedes, caterpillars, insect eggs, whiteflies
Attracting and Keeping Natural Enemies & Pollinators in Your Yard
  • Avoid regular use of synthetic, broad-spectrum pesticides. Infrequent use of certain narrow-spectrum pesticides is more compatible with some beneficials but generally the less chemical inputs there are, the greater and more diverse the beneficial insect community will be. Extensive lawns are also not conducive to attracting and retaining a diversity of beneficial insects, mites and spiders. Minimize lawn areas and maximize shrub and bush plantings. Many beneficials reside naturally in riparian and other ‘natural’ areas near to many back yards. Natural dispersion from these refuges ensures that some beneficials will visit back yards but they will not stay unless food, host and shelter resources are available. Native plants have closer affinities with native insects and therefore provide most of these resources. A garden with a good diversity of local native flora in and around back yards, will improve the abundance and diversity of local, beneficial arthropods. Native flora also provides natural overwintering sites for many beneficial insects and it is useful to leave at least a small area of native vegetation undisturbed during fall and winter.
  • Some kinds of beneficial insects (e.g. lady beetles, lacewings, predatory mites) are available for purchase from commercial suppliers. However, benefits from introducing these beneficials are usually limited and short-lived. Upon release, commercially obtained lady beetles and lacewings often disperse and may rapidly leave your backyard despite the presence of prey and suitable nectar resources. Generally, it is more effective and sustainable to create a garden habitat that will be colonized by beneficials naturally.


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Caption: Worker ant (Formicidae)
Photo by: D.G. James