Avoiding Ant Bites When Fruit Picking

Weaver ants are the boon and bane of mango trees. Boon, because they help eradicate some of the pests that eat and destroy the leaves and fruits, thus significantly cutting down the pest management expenses of farmers.

They're a bane, well, because they attack on the farmers when it's time to harvest the mango fruits. And they attack relentlessly. Like an army on a suicide mission, they bite wherever and whenever they fall or crawl on you.

Harvesting mango fruits by climbing and then picking the fruits by hand is virtually impossible when there are weaver ants. They're crawl so fast that you'll be covered with them in no time. So harvesting mangoes using a fruit picking tool is typically the practical way to get them. But even then, weaver ants will always be there. They could build a few nests in a single tree.

Here's one that we saw on the ground. I'm guessing some previous fruit pickers managed to cut and pull it off from the branches with their fruit picking tool, either intentionally or otherwise. It's unlikely that it will fall by itself since these weaver ants build sturdy nests.

How Can Ants be Avoided

Here are tips on how ant activity may be reduced. From aciar.gov.au:
Weaver ants annoy people working in the orchard during the harvest. Water spray can greatly reduce the ant activity prior to harvest, and it does not cause fruit lenticels or post-harvest diseases. Mango growers are pleased with this method in Australia. In Thailand, farmers found a picking pole or net with a long handle plus shaking action after a few picks to be useful to reduce the disturbance from the ants.

In Vietnam, two methods are used to reduce ant disturbance: (1) to rub wood ash on the main branches of the relevant part of the tree to break ant trails when harvesting; and (2) to lure the ant away from the trees, which will then be harvested or pruned.

Since we do not own any mango trees, we only pick from other trees that grow in the community playground, near the chapel and from neighbors, after getting their permission. The above tips wouldn't be feasible for us.

How Ants Reach You

There are several ways weaver ants reach you when you're busy picking mango fruits.

  • They fall on you. In the process of fruit picking, the pole hits several leaves and branches and the ants shake off. They fall like snowflakes either on the ground or on you. They fall on your head, face, back and arms and proceed to crawl all over.

  • They crawl up on your feet and legs from the ground. Either there were already ants on the ground in the first place or drop on the ground

  • They use the fruit picker pole as a bridge. Many weaver ants attack by instinct at whatever intrudes their territory. So when the fruit picker basket or pole "invades" the area, they crawl on it and downwards to your fingers, hands and arms.

The third method is really the most annoying and disruptive because the weaver ants reach you via the tool you're holding.
(See the continuation in Part 2)

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