The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Ants on okra

Ants on okra

Garden antsThe bases of our okra flowers are currently loaded down with big, black ants.  What the insects are doing is beyond me.

My first thought was that okra must be one of the plants with extrafloral nectaries, but a google search turns up no useful hits on the combo of terms.

Instead, I learned that fire ants will often feed on the base of okra bloom buds and cause the flowers to abort.  Luckily, these are neither fire ants nor bloom buds, and my fruits seem to be setting fine.

A close look shows that the ants aren't farming aphids --- the other way ants could harm okra.  So what are they doing?

Our chicken waterer is always POOP-free.

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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We definitely have the fire ant problem and would love a remedy or at least a deterrent for them. They tend to damage the pod right at the "cap" near the stem and seem to stunt the growth.
Comment by Jeremy Thu Aug 4 09:19:34 2011

I have the same big black ants making the rounds in my garden. They were all over my jalapenos, then Okra, and now have moved on to my watermelon. They definitely seem to be attracted to whatever is blooming, I too was worried about aphids, but no sign of them.

Funny observation- the only insect problems I've had this year were caterpillars in my cabbage and squash bugs. Tomatoes, cabbage & squash were the only things I didn't start from seed this year, so the pests must have came from the garden store. (I also started some squash from seed after learning how fast they grow, can't believe I paid $2 a plant @ the store!)

Comment by Phil Thu Aug 4 10:35:58 2011
I'm not familiar with okra, but the first photo is reminiscent of ants on peonies. I've read that the ants eat the wax from the flower bud and without that help, the flower wouldn't open.??
Comment by doc Thu Aug 4 12:59:26 2011
I agree with doc, the first thing I thought of what the ant-peony relationship. I don't know if that's what you were researching or not, but if it wasn't a similar connection to that, maybe you should give it a look see?
Comment by Brandy Thu Aug 4 15:42:48 2011

Jeremy --- I feel very, very grateful we're outside the range of fire ants. I don't have a solution for you, unfortunately, although there has been talk of a fungus that will kill fire ants --- just get it in their mounds.

Phil --- I wonder if your ants could be gathering nectar if they're traveling to what's blooming. Do they show up inside the flowers?

It's also possible that the insects didn't come from the store, but were able to make inroads because the plants were unhappy to be transplanted (or got rootbound at the store.) Squash, especially, hates transplanting --- I find that squash grow faster from seed than from transplants simply because the transplanting stunts them. I can't for the life of me figure out why stores sell squash plants. Maybe they just count on people who don't know any better?

Doc --- Peonies are an excellent example of plants with extrafloral nectaries. From a quick search of the internet, it sounds like the wax-eating is a myth, but plants give away free sugar water to ants for a reason --- protection. Ants are quite happy to bite anything that gets too close to their nectar-source, so they keep peonies defended from potential herbivores.

Comment by anna Thu Aug 4 16:06:39 2011
Brandy --- looks like you and I were commenting at the same time. Extrafloral nectaries were, indeed, one of the hypotheses I considered but had to discard.
Comment by anna Thu Aug 4 16:54:22 2011
I definitely was one of the chumps that didn't know better! lol
Comment by Phil Thu Aug 4 18:18:05 2011

I Have seen some ants on the okra, will pay more attention to what they are doing. Whatever they are doing they have not impacted the okra production, that I've noticed. I've had a few squash bugs show up, I mash them. I try not to hurt the leaves in the process. I've noticed that the ants show up really quickly to clean up the mess. Have not figured out if they smell the dead bugs or if they just have a regular scheduled scouting routine over all the plants.

Comment by Don G Thu Aug 4 23:59:23 2011

Phil --- "Trick me once, shame on you. Trick me twice, shame on me." Surely there aren't enough new gardeners every year to keep the squash transplant sellers in business?

Don G --- Interesting! Okra is a highly attractive flower for insects. Maybe the ants hang around for the same reason the spiders do?

Comment by anna Fri Aug 5 07:39:35 2011

I'm seen fire ants currently working on my okra flowers too.. I also have one okra plant that has the tiny black sugar ants no other ants as though they respect each others territory? I saw one fire ant on the ground going away from the plant that was carrying a small white round object that is few times the size of its head, still much smaller than a pins head. looking at the object through a jewelers loupe it looks like a pearl. its rather hard and squished between the tops of my thumbnails its bursts with liquid, like a water balloon. I am seeing these on the leaf stems, some are clear and when you touch them they squish rather easily, as they age the turn from clear to a milky to pearl color and harden up as they age and turn color. is this a type of nectar the okra produces?

Comment by TommyG Sun Jun 15 18:51:22 2014

A few days ago, I noticed I have tiny red ants, 1mm perhaps, in New Orleans on my Okra; a visible line up the trunk, and they stop at the base of the single flower. I don't see, yet, any impact on the pods or their size.

I suspect, and will check within a few days, that these ants are nibbling at the surface and causing sap leaks. I would bet that the flowers and pods draw substantial energy stores, and these ants are no fools.

Similar to the black ants that gnaw on the small stalks leading to pairs of pea pods-to-be, after flowering. Except those ants, larger, the stalks and peas smaller, and the amount of energy the ants can steal, larger -- impacting the survival of the pods.

As for the nodule stolen by the lone red ant, I am thinking those are sap balls, formed by the plants in response to the gnawing insult, dried on the outside by evaporation, leaving waxy/hard exterior and sugars fluid to the interior.

Comment by Anonymous Tue Aug 12 16:45:48 2014

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