Why do ants love cowpeas?

Why do little black ants like to crowd around the stems of my cowpeas?

Why do little black ants like to crowd around the stems of my cowpeas?

This is my first year planting cowpeas and I’ve been enjoying the tasty long beans as they’ve been coming into fruition the past few weeks. However, every time I go out to our little vegetable garden, the stems of the actual cowpeas themselves are covered in little black ants. Does anyone else have this problem? I did some research online and the closest thing I can find so far is that the ants are seeking to suck the juices out of the stems. Apparently, cowpeas in southern Georgia attact a number of wasps, too, and, as the University of California Sustainable Agriculture Education and Research Program stated on their website, the “Red imported fire ant (Solenopsis invicta) forages for honeydew produced by cowpea aphid (Aphis craccivora) on cowpea and hairy indigo (Indigofera hirsuta) but not on sesbania (Sesbania exaltata), based on a replicated study conducted in Georgia (Kaakeh and Dutcher, 1992).”

I also found info about cowpea’s pests in an article by Aaron Conor on the website helium.com. Aaron said:

Insects may attempt to eat your plants and the black-eyed pea pods themselves. Grasshoppers and cutter ants are the most dangerous of the insects that you will have to worry about. All you can really do is apply pesticides liberally on your black-eyed pea plants, which will be more useful in deterring grasshoppers.

As for the ants, you may want to try and obstruct their ability to enter your garden. You can try placing a miniature plastic wall around your garden, which will help keep the ants out. Sometimes the ants will simply dig underneath it, though.

One suggestion I saw for insect control was mixing Dawn dishwashing liquid with water in a little hand held spray bottle and covering the plants. Or finding a way to retain a flock of hungry sparrows around your garden, in which case the ants are most likely to meet an untimely end.

On a side note, I also found in poking around online that cowpeas (which applies to a number of southern pea varieties, like black eyes peas and crowder peas) tend to grow very well in poor soil, which can work well for someone with a streak of Georgia red clay through the yard like me. The plant originated near Ethiopia and subsequently developed for grown in the African Savannah ad was bred to withstand the heat.

If you have any other knowledge of, or experience with, black ants and cowpeas, please let me know by commenting below!

2 Responses to “Why do ants love cowpeas?”
  1. Gabel says:

    Hey Jenny

    I’ve noticed wasps in the peas before, but not ants. I wouldn’t worry about the ants unless the plants seem to be suffering as a result.

  2. Sarah says:

    My cowpeas began attracting LOTS of ants as soon as they started flowering. I don’t see them creating much harm, but I am still quite leery of them.

    Some internet research has made me think they may be a beneficial insect… attracted to the extrafloral nectaries produced by the plants. (http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/in175).

    I guess I’ll just have to keep watching to find out.

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