leafcutter ants

The picture says it all. They strip a complete tree in a day of all its leaves. Can't blame them, because they use the leaves to make their own food, but they do attack my fig tree, roses, hibiscus, etc., and I would try anything to stop them, preferably a natural solution.

The natives' strategy is to track them back to their home, pour petrol down the nest and set it on fire. I'm neither keen on pouring petrol into nature, nor on spraying my plants with heavy chemicals (which does work, I am told). Besides, the nest is not on my property. Is there anything I can do to protect my plants and get rid of the ants?

They seem to cut the leaves and then collect them at the bottom of the tree. Are there any physical barriers that one could try, which might be too difficult to overcome whilst carrying the leaf?

Do ants avoid plants with strong smell?

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    I am currently fighting my own war against leafcutters. I have tried using Tanglefoot around the tree (see video). I found this video on you tube and it looks promising. I have a vacation house in Costa Rica that i visit 5-6 times a year. I really hope it works, but won't know till April if it stays on. youtube.com/watch?v=1dLyJJxbEV8 – user1184 Feb 15 '14 at 21:38
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    @Heather Welcome to Sustainable Living! Please do tell us in April if it worked or not. – THelper Feb 15 '14 at 22:07

11 Answers 11


Lots of ideas..

Dark Side

Be careful what you wish for, though they do have the benefit of keeping fire ants away.

Light Side

Sacrificial plants - (If Lepiota is what your ants are cultivating, then Nettles may be a good plant to cultivate along their route to your fruit trees) Once your sacrificial plants are established, hose down the pheromone trail leading to your trees until they find another source of food. It is believed they tend to stick to one type of foliage at a time in an attempt feed the fungi they are harvesting a consistent diet.

Cultivate them for fun & profit!


The comments in this discussion looked helpful, including discussion of why standard ant control techniques don't work with leaf cutter ants. http://crphotos.blogspot.com/2009/05/leaf-cutter-ants-and-biological.html

Unfortunately the link that is referenced in the comments no longer works directly. It looks like the resource has been moved to the publications section of: http://www.echocommunity.org/ And it requires you to create an account before accessing the information in their "Amaranth to Zai Holes" publication.

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    I had found the blog post you linked to before, which is why I decided to post here. Leaf cutter ants can't really be poisoned, because they only eat home-grown fungus (and they cut the leaves to feed the fungus). Ordinary pest control is pretty effective, as it makes the fungus disintegrate. I sprayed about 10 ants and the colony seems to have died. I feel a little guilty and would like to find an alternative solution. The book "Amaranth to Zai Holes" is available as PDF online and does look interesting, but does not contain a single sentence about ants... – Earthliŋ Jul 14 '13 at 1:43

As I've been trying various strategies, the following helped me overcome the problem with the ants.

Leaf-cutter ants invariably carve out a highway for carrying the leaves from the source plant to their home. The ants may do so for distances of several metres, but they seem to only cut down grass that's shorter than about 15cm.

I have been growing grass around and on my property, which is maybe 40cm high. Ever since, my trees have been free from leaf-cutter ant attacks.


I keep many species of ants including leafcutters and what we use in the hobby is barriers like extra virgin olive oil or fluon to keep them from climbing up the walls of containers and escaping, leafcutters are poor climbers of smooth surfaces, so if you apply this barrier to some material(preferably something smooth like a pipe) and have that around the trunk of the plant they won't be able to get to it as long as it's not touching the ground or other plants that would give them another route. You could also make a little roof over the barrier so rain won't wash it off. The good news is that the barriers are non toxic and can last a good while before you need to reapply it.


We buy some cheap transparent plastic at a sewing store. Kind of like clear plastic sandwich bag plastic but thicker. We cut it into half circles of various sizes - usually 6-9 inches long and maybe 4-6" high at the top of the half circle. We then use cheap elastic maybe 1/4" wide (also from a sewing store) and then attach these half circles, circle side down, wrapping them around the trees or plants in a skirt-like shape and tying them tight at the top with the elastic. Imagine them as a clear mini-skirt for a plant or small tree trunk. Obviously for a larger tree you'd need a much bigger half-circle of plastic. Note that it doesn't have to be transparent, it just looks better to us that way. Also note it could be aluminum foil or any slick surface but we like this transparent plastic and it's cheap. A less "pretty" way is to just use small grocery or store bags, and tie them with the elastic or rubber bands at the top. The concept is that the ants go up the stalk and can't get through due to the elastic tied tight over the plastic. Then they don't want to crawl along the inside of the skirt either because it's slippery. So they go away. This has been the ONLY thing that works for us. Sometimes some of the "bait" type poison works but many times it does not as these leaf cutter ants are extremely intelligent re their farming and they come to recognize that the poison bait is bad for them so they won't carry it back to their "farm".


I live in Denmark, so no leafcutter ants here. There are, however, some ants that wants to live under my house, which is fine, and enter my house to search for food, which is not fine. I've tried sprinkling cinnamon around their point of entry (a doorsill) and they didn't like it. They stopped entering my house. I used the ground, powder-like cinnamon not the sticks. Perhaps making a circle of cinnamon around the attacked tree will discourage the ants from stripping that tree.

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    I don't think using the ground bark of a tropical tree is very sustainable. Besides, it's expensive. Try using talcum powder. – andy256 Jun 3 '14 at 9:42

Cut off the upper section of a plastic beverage bottle, leaving the top opening as thick as the newly planted tree. Put shaving cream under the dome and duct tape it to the tree. The plastic dome won't allow the rain to rinse off the cream and it will last many weeks. Leaf cutters won't cross a line of shaving cream.


I use a vacuum. It takes about an hour a night( four 15 minute shifts) for three nights. No environmental side effects. In Guatemala they usually forage in early evening. Mix a glass or mug of your favorite beverage and enjoy a few minutes of ant vacuuming. I am starting my first battle of the spring tonight as I have a lot of lime tree leaf cuttings at the base of the tree.Good luck

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    Welcome to Sustainable Living! Thank you for your answer. Could you say something about the effectiveness? Are the ant not coming back the next night? – THelper Apr 5 '19 at 7:25

I am form Belize I have tried almost everything against these evil ants, but seem that nothing stops them from eating my plum, mango, banana, roses, flowers, oranges and lots more. Now I bought a poison called Sompopin it comes in bags they took it as if it was food and the whole colony died for some months, but after 3-5 months they are back and start multiplying like beach sand again, I am tired just yesterday I mix water with Foca soap and spray them and seem to die instantly. But I am planning to bring an excavator to dig the nest because there are around 16 nests and spray soapy water with a good chemical and disappear them off my land. Can someone help?

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    Can someone help? Do you want to ask a new question? Have you seen the other answers here? – Earthliŋ Aug 27 '16 at 18:55
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    Welcome to Sustainable Living! Please note that this is a Q&A website and not a discussion forum. If you are not sure what that means I recommend taking the tour first. If you want to ask a new question you can do that here – THelper Aug 28 '16 at 11:35

I've surrounded the base of my rose bush with sulphur powder and the chewed-up material I found around other ant-hills. It keeps them at bay for a while, but the rose bush goes off in a dozen directions and the leaf cutters just walk up and climb on to a branch from somewhere else. I can't figure out where the nest is. They seem to pop out of everywhere. I have nightmares that my house is built on top of a huge ant metropolis

The sulphur only repels until I water the plant again and then it's gone. This is super discouraging. Tonight I'm going to try boric acid in the holes around which I find bits of leaf every morning.

Boiling water down the hole does diddly squat, they're back the following evening. Cinnamon powder annoys them but doesn't keep them away. It works fine with other types of ant.


Early on this summer we had ants, and I used an old advise about spreading some cinnamon-powder on the ground and holes. I tell you, they where complete GONE after one hour or two

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    Did you have regular ants (those that also eat human food, like sugar, bread, etc.) or leafcutter ants (which don't care for human food)? – Earthliŋ Aug 31 '16 at 22:25
  • Yes, it was regular ants, I guess it's the strong aroma they don't like, so maybe it also works on leafcutter-ants – Daniel Kaas Sep 1 '16 at 9:51
  • That's unlikely. As far as I know leafcutter ants aren't sensitive to smell. – Earthliŋ Sep 1 '16 at 10:00

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