Industry News: Bark and Trunk Concerns

Q: Can ants make holes in trees?

Monday, March 7, 2016  

Q: I have a tree that looks oily in places. Upon further inspection, there are ants, and it looks like they're making holes in the tree and the tree is sapping. Is there anything I can do to get rid of the ants without hurting the tree?

A: The holes in your tree can be caused by many things. At this time of year, however, the most likely cause is a small woodpecker called a sapsucker. These migratory birds seek out early sap-producing trees like sugar maple. The birds tend to be routine in their selection of trees and will visit them either daily or weekly as they move along their migratory route, so keep an eye out for hem as they fly from tree to tree. The birds peck a hole in the bark, and the tree oozes sap, which the birds eagerly drink until they are full. Since the tree produces more sap than the bird can drink, the sap runs down the trunk. Ants, hungry after a long winter, also enjoy the sap and will continue to feed on it. The damage can be a serious problem for your tree if the friendly feathered feeding is intensive, but more often than not, this is a mere cosmetic problem. Since the birds are migratory, you will probably only see them for a few months out of the year, but some species overwinter in North Carolina. There are several commercial, non-lethal remedies if the tree is in danger of girdling. Your friends at the U.S. Forest Service NC Experiment Station have developed some additional information. This information is a little old but still relevant. These birds are protected via treaty, so it is illegal to harm them.

Responder: Marty Shaw, RCA #470, Franklin, TN