The Q&A Archives: Are Ants Really Pests?

Question: I have always seen ants as beneficial insects (except when they invade my home)because they loosen the soil. And from the Q& A it seems that they usually don't damage plants. So what plants will ants damage and is it just certain species of ants that do so?

Answer: Like spiders, ants sometimes get a bad rap. If ants aren't a problem in your yard and home, then they are purely beneficial, since "pest" or "beneficial" is really a description of a relationship, not a strict definition. It's true that ants aren't generally direct pests of garden plants, but some are associated with aphids. They actually harvest the sweet honeydew (aphid waste) for food, and in return protect the aphids from predators and parasitoids. Other kinds, most notoriously fire ants, are seen as a problem when they build their nests in gardens and yards, since they are agressive and their bites are quite irritating. And still others infest wooden frames of homes and destroy the structure slowly over time, while some species live in homes and "clean up" after us, especially where there's sugar to be found.

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