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Fighting Fungus: Possible Cure for Leaf-Cutter Ants

October 20th, 2015

Fighting Fungus: Possible Cure for Leaf-Cutter Ants

A newly discovered fungus may be the answer to getting rid of those pesky leaf-cutter ants. Leaf-cutter ants, which are a gardener’s nightmare, threaten a number of crops including citrus, plum, peach, and other fruit trees as well as nut, ornamental plants, and some forage crops. These garden pests are difficult to control with normal pesticides because they grow their own food, a specialized fungus that they’ve been harvesting for the last 50 million years. Scott Solomon, an evolutionary biologist at Rice University, and member of an ongoing study of parasites associated with leaf-cutter ants, began his study of leaf-cutter ants as a graduate student. Since then the project has been expanded to include a number of foreign countries.

The study has found that a fungal parasite called Escovopsis attacks the ants’ fungal crops, destroying their unique food source. The parasite appears to be a possible answer to a number of difficult to destroy ant types that also survive on their own harvested fungus. With the parasite being more broadly applicable than they initially thought, it could be much easier to develop and test. The parasite could end up being used to target a number of different ant species. This is great news for you gardeners out there. An answer to those garden destroyers is near!

What do you usually do to try and protect your garden from leaf-cutter ants and other pesky critters? Do you think this cure could cause a gardening revolution?

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