Ants get attracted to garden pests and facilitate plant-damaging insects to grow, particularly when they need food from these little creatures.
Do Ants Eat Scale Insects? Ants do not eat scale insects and build a mutualistic relationship by consuming honeydew and protecting them. Ants can be a sign of scale insects on a plant that can cause damage to plant growth by sucking the sap.
It becomes challenging for a gardener to get control over the heavy infestations when the insects are supporting each other for survival, resulting in an increased population rapidly.
An interaction of scale insects and ants can become a problem for plants because they can suck sap from the stem and cause damage to foliage or stems.
Why do ants not eat scale insects?
Scale insects have soft bodies covered in waxy material, which keeps them moist and prevents drying. This outer waxy layer on their bodies helps them blend in the environment to avoid predators.
They do not eat the scale insects but get attracted to them for other reasons. They do not swallow these tiny creatures having 3 to 10 mm body length.
However, the honeydew secretions produced by the scaly insects can be the reason for ants to reach these little insects living on the plant twigs, stems, and foliage.
In addition, these sweet secretions are usually present on the outer surface of their bodies. It makes them look shinier and protects them from drying.
The sticky material can also be present on plant parts like leaves or stems because these insects are tightly pressed against the plant’s surface.
Accordingly, the sugar-loving ants detect the presence of these honeydew-producing insects by detecting the odor and making an effort to climb the stem and reach them.
So, they avoid eating and killing the scale insects because they do not want to wipe out their constant food source and help them survive.
What is the relationship between ants and scale insects?
Ants and scale insects are engaged in a mutualistic association and are known to favor each other for survival by providing food and protection.
These little creatures depend on each other as ants need nutrition from them in the form of honeydew, a complex mixture of sugary substances that provides energy.
In the same way, the scale insects need protection from them because many other floral bugs can reach the plants and eat these soft-bodied insects.
Accordingly, ants ensure their safety from being predated or parasitized by other insects because they can provide a constant food source for the long term.
These scaly insects also live in ants’ nests, usually found in the trees. I found both insects living on a tulip tree in my garden.
Their bodies are covered in a powdery material that serves as a papery tent, making them hide from predators’ view, increasing their lifespan.
In addition, the sugary poop on plants’ stems can become a suitable platform for mold or fungus to grow, which can negatively affect the scale of insect growth.
The fungal growths can make them infertile, so ants shift these insects to different locations where the stems are not covered with fungal mats.
So, they are engaged in a positive relationship because a significant decrease in the population of scale insects is observed in the absence of ants.
Are ants a sign of scale insects on plants?
The presence of ants on the plant and a long trail of insects marching higher on the plant body can indicate the presence of scale insects on the plant.
Most commonly, they are linked to each other and favor growth and protection from deadly attacks of other insects that can affect their lifespan.
Ants are considered to be the friends of scale insects as they benefit each other in terms of survival. The sugar-loving ants are primarily attracted to these honeydew-producing creatures.
Honeydew can provide essential nutrients as this naturally produced secretion is packed with nutritional elements like sucrose and trisaccharides.
You have to control the population of scale insects if you want to get rid of ants from the plants because the former ones suck phloem sap to produce honeydew.
The herbivorous ants can reach these insects to build a mutual relationship and seek honeydew from them, while the carnivorous species have predatory nature.
They can get closer to scale insects living on the plant surface to eat them, but it rarely happens because the predatory species choose other ground insects to fulfill their nutritional needs.
Furthermore, you have to devise suitable methods to remove scale insects, as only washing the plant surface with water is not a permanent solution to get rid of these plant pests.
Insecticidal sprays are a good solution when there is a heavy infestation, as they can make their way to the plant after washing, so it is better to kill these insects.
What type of scale insects attract more ants?
There are different types of scale insects having flat and scaly bodies that are commonly found living on plant surfaces as they need plant sap to survive.
Some armored scale insects have elongated or oval bodies covered in a waxy layer or protective external scales.
Others are soft scales with convex-shaped bodies slightly bigger than armored ones. They look like aphids and mealybugs but are different behaviorally and apparently.
Brown-scale insects are commonly found to be living or even dead on the tree bark as these insects do not fall off the branches. They are known as sap-sucking due to the consumption of sap.
In the same way, the ants are dependent on these sap-sucking creatures and get nutrition from their sugary poop. The carpenter ants get attracted to soft brown scales and protect them.
The red and white scale insects also occupy plant parts and spend their lives there. They are also known to attract a population of ants toward plants to obtain secreted honeydew.
Do ants eat dead scale insects?
Ants avoid eating living scale insects because they provide a constant food source to these tiny insects. They reach honeydew-producing aphids, mealy bugs, and other insects.
Accordingly, they build a mutual relationship with insects that can benefit their colonies in the short or long term and facilitate them in return by different means.
However, they are supposed to eat the dead scale insects because they cannot become a living source of food anymore as they lose abilities to secrete honeydew.
They get nutrition from bodies of dead insects by chewing and breaking them into smaller parts that can be easily swallowed in their tiny guts.
Furthermore, the dead ones only consume space on plants and are useless to them, so ants eat their soft dead bodies and extract nutrients.