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Specific problem involving caterpillars, fire ants and dogs

Okay, here’s my problem (it’s a bit involved but i want to be as specific and detailed as possible... brace yourselves):

I live in a rented duplex in East Texas. i state specifically that it’s rented to show that i have not been the one in charge of the backyard maintenance, nor do i believe that our landlords had much to do with it either. i say that because about 90% of it is crabgrass (if not more), there are half dug up tree roots, some smaller type of tree-like species growing up through the privacy fence... etc etc. the yard is small (maybe about 20’ x 30’) but we needed just about any size yard for our dogs since we were in an apartment. it is not big enough (and we can’t really afford) to use an actual lawnmower, so we have a weed eater to trim the lawn. that of course causes a lot of the trimmings to hang around in the yard, despite my best efforts to rake them and put them in the compost bags. we have not used any radical weed treatments due to the potential risk to our dogs.
now i bring up the dogs because they are very important to my crisis here.
they poop (obviously) and i am very diligent on cleaning up their messes as quickly as possible, but there are those times where i can’t always pick it up quickly due to the weather or other things that are out of my control (like my husband not always doing it when he’s home and i’m not). so needless to say, there have been some problems with wild mushrooms (which really aren’t that big of deal) and fire ants making their ginormous mounds around the little turds. my dogs have a pretty bad allergy to the ants, but are also those kind of derpy dogs that will lay down on top of a trail for like 30 seconds before realizing it. and again, we have not yet used any radical pesticide treatments because of the danger posed on the dogs, just a few spot treatments here and there. :?
so NOW (again, just bear with me here), we have a HUGE amount of lawn caterpillars everywhere (and i mean, everywhere! like, the lawn looks like it’s alive because we have so many)! and i do not mind caterpillars in the least, but i have a strong suspicion that they are perpetually providing the ants food enough to continue living in our backyard... but i also really don’t want to kill the caterpillars (part because i really really don’t want to kill them when they, by themselves, are really not causing any problems, and part because i fear that having a yard full of dead caterpillars will just draw in more ants or even mice [which we did have a mouse problem awhile back, and i again didn’t want to kill them but i couldn’t risk the dogs getting ahold of them, so i laboriously put out cinder blocks and chucked wire around our janky fence and we don’t have those anymore] which would defeat the purpose).

so, to recap: yard of almost nothing but crabgrass (which we would like to find a way to eradicate), have to use weed eater instead of mower (leaving lawn clippings behind), lots and lots of fire ant mounds (which we would also like to find a way to eradicate), and many many caterpillars we would like to get out of our yard preferably without killing, and all of this done with the least amount of chemical intervention as possible so as not to harm our dogs who are usually active and like being out in the yard!

told ya that was a gonna be a long story... let me know if you have anything else specified if you think you can help!
we are very willing to try just about anything! we hate seeing our dogs getting eaten alive by the ants, but we hate having to keep them inside when we have a yard that we got just for them! we have so so many caterpillars that we honestly wouldn’t mind keeping around, but with how bad the fire ants are around here, we really don’t have that option. we are more than happy to kill every little fire ant that ever roamed the planet :twisted: but the caterpillars have not harmed us or the dogs in anyway and i don’t want them to have to die. :(
but our dogs are the most important thing, so if there’s not something out there can satisfy even some of these areas, then we will go a more extreme route if we need to. i just really wanted to get a more expert opinion first (that’s you guys btw :D )

thank you so much!

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Re: Specific problem involving caterpillars, fire ants and d

Wow. OK. I’m just going to suggest some ideas —

My inclination is to ID the caterpillars because if it’s mostly crabgrass, I can’t think of what they are there for. Only possible ID I can think of is Fall Armyworms that march in ranks — hence the moniker... which are pests to begin with. Do you know if they go on to swarm some plant and eat?

I tend to prefer natural methods and believe in biodiversity, so I tend not to try to kill off anything unless they are pests....

I’m not sure if this will help if they are not eating your lawn, but Bt would be the pest-safe product to try. BUT if these are not actually butterfly or moth caterpillars, Bt will not work. Maybe post a photo or two. The caterpillars must ingest it to be effective. If you decide to use it, I think powdered form would be better than liquid spray form.

If you know for sure that the fire ants are eating the caterpillars, maybe you could make a bait station for the fire ants by putting their preferred food in a container that is secured from your dog (sealed container with small openings) and add some boric acid or borax for them to take back to their nest. I would think there must be commercial version of this as well.

I have no experience with them here, but my understanding is that fire ants are very difficult to kill/control. Least toxic might be to pour boiling water on/in their nests.

If you are willing to kill all insects and spiders in the yard, then horticultural or agricultural/feed grade DE — Diatomaceous Earth might challenge the fireants. Rather than treating the entire yard, you could just sprinkle around the turds and maybe the nests. Feed grade DE is added to animal feed to kill weevils, etc. It is also fed to animals to eliminate intestinal worms. So it should be safe enough for your dog. However, it does mildly irritate if breathed in — coughing, etc. DO NOT use pool/filter-grade DE, which is heat processed into sharp crystalline form — those Can be DANGEROUS if inhaled.
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Posts: 27736
Joined: Thu May 01, 2008 11:21 pm
Location: Zone 6, NJ (3/M)4/E ~ 10/M

Re: Specific problem involving caterpillars, fire ants and d

Ha. Here are some reasons for keeping some of those fire ants —
What do fire ants eat? - eXtension
https://articles.extension.org/pages/60 ... e-ants-eat

Ticks and chiggers: Evidence has shown that Imported fire ants reduce populations of certain tick species by preying on engorged female ticks filled with blood and eggs or small hatching ticks. Non-engorged ticks freeze in place and "play possum" when examined by a foraging ant, thus escaping their fate as ant food! Fire ants also prey on chiggers, reducing their populations.

Imported fire ant preying on engorged adult female tick (left), and examining a non-engorged tick (right).

Insects: Fire ants prey on many different life stages of various insects including flea larvae and cockroach eggs.
Learning never ends because we can share what we've learned. And in sharing our collective experiences, we gain deeper understanding of what we learned.

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Joined: Tue Jan 01, 2013 1:32 pm
Location: hawaii, zone 12a 587 ft elev.

Re: Specific problem involving caterpillars, fire ants and d

if the caterpillars are in the lawn, they could be moths, skippers or even beetle larvae, and they are probably eating the roots of the grass.

I have a problem with tenants who rent a house with a yard and expect the landlord to maintain the grass. It is one thing to have some one come in to cut the grass, but you cannot expect anyone to have to deal with flying poop. Tenants should at least water the grass. If your landlord is allowing you to keep dogs, I think it is your responsibility to clean up after them regularly and since dogs also damage grass, I think you should do more to maintain the grass. If you keep your dogs out, then it is better that you deal with the chemicals in the yard so you know what and when they were applied and when to keep your dogs out of the area.
There are weed killers you can use to kill the crabgrass and if you follow the directions, it will tell you how long you need to wait before allowing people and dogs back in the area. A pet safe alternative would be to dig out the weeds by hand. You can fence off a part of the yard and work on one section at a time. If you took better care of the grass, by watering, fertilizing, and mowing or weed whacking at the proper height you would have fewer issues. Ants are harder to deal with but there are specific baits that can be used safely around pets if you follow the directions. Fire ants have a nasty bite and have been known to cause blindness in animals that have been attacked.
You need to make sure you remove pet dishes after the animals are fed. Ants will be attracted to any leftover food. You can use a dog waterer, because ants will also crowd around the water in the bowl especially when it is hot and dry.

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