An obnoxious but yet impressive garden ant
There are about 12000 species of ants hitherto described in the world, of which 247 species reside in Thailand, but many more remain to find. One ground dwelling ant which you find commonly in the Chiang Mai gardens is the ‘marauder ant’ Pheidologeton sp. It is easily identified by its trails with zillions of black, small workers which are happy to bite you, large workers and massive gigantic ‘soldiers’. A Thai name is simply ‘mot dam’ (black ant).
Marauder ants tend to make huge underground nests in sandy soils from which they launch foraging campaigns. This means that a certain spot in your garden may be clear from ants in the evening, but next morning when you walk about in kimono holding a cup of lovely coffee, your bare legs might be attacked by marauders and they do make you run and brush your legs. The massive soldiers move slowly like tractors so they are of little significance to the gardener. Like in the army, these living tractors may carry many small workers. They are also good at seed cracking and for towing larger prey.
Ants in general is one reason explaining the cleanliness of the Thai people. When a dirty farang like me resides for too long in a tent or room, the marauders happily invades your territory to liberate you from bread crumbs. Frequent cleaning is important to keep them away. Many animals feed on ants so a rich biodiversity in your garden may lower the numbers.
If an ant trail goes into your house because these hunters and gatherers spotted potato chips under your sofa, then pour some whiskey on their door step to wipe out the chemicals (pheromones) the ants use to find their way. This causes immediate chaos and proceed without delay with the vacuum cleaner to remove the invaders and their targets (dead spiders, pop corn etc). After counterattacking the immediate invasion, proceed by launching an attack on their head quarters. Many litres of boiling water poured rapidly from air borne tea pots may be sufficient. The aim is to eliminate the ant queen. Without a leader the nation will shatter and her mercenaries will get lost in the jungle. If this bombing is unsuccessful due to the depth of the fortress, you may want to try an ant specific bait. Although chemicals should be avoided, there are cases when it is either you or them. Unlike a gas which kills anything, a bait is specific and is brought home by workers which will poison the ant queen.
These ants are native and ecologically they do provide (other) pest control and also disperse seeds.
In previous articles I have mentioned three other common ants in Chiang Mai gardens: the exotic pharaoh ant, the exotic fire ant and the native red weaver ant which is food and often an ally in pest control.
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Text & Photo: Eric Danell, Dokmai Garden