Tanglefoot, boon or bust?

Here in Panama there’s just about nothing more destructive, more pernicious, more aggravating, than leaf cutter ants. They can strip a sizeable plant overnight. By the time you see the damage, it’s too late. Usually the plants do recover but it’s obviously a set back.

When I learned of Tanglefoot I thought it might be my salvation. And it was. Sort of. For awhile.

Right now, mid May, we’re seeing the beginning of the rainy season. Obviously, plants love it. We have one hectare of land, about two and a half acres. In just over two years of living on the property, we’ve planted 10+ avocado and at least that many mangoes. A smattering of other trees, cacao, mamon chino, African tulip tree and a lot of palms. Also heliconia and flowering trees and shrubs of all sorts. The latter are the domain of my wife. The fruiting trees are mine.

It didn’t take long for the leaf cutters to discover the bountiful treasures. Our worker and others recommended various insecticides, which I was loathe to use. At first and for awhile, I left the leaf cutters alone. Live and let live. They’re just trying to make a living. And so forth.

But eventually the damage was too much to tolerate. Research indicated that the ants eat only the fungus that they cultivate underground via the leaf cuttings. As such, insecticides would not be effective. That turns out to be not quite right. But I’m getting a bit ahead.

I watched a lot of YouTube videos on mango cultivation and grafting. It was there that I learned of Tanglefoot. I immediately thought, “I gotta try this stuff!” And so I ordered a tub. Ebay, IIRC.

The stuff is, well, nasty. Might want to have some GoJo or Fast Orange handy. Better yet, use disposable gloves. The first time I used it I applied it with a putty knife. No gloves. Still messy, but it got the job done.

Didn’t last as long as I expected, however. Must have been in the rainy season. By now I’m on my second tub and took a different approach to the application. I had our yard guy wrap the trunks in some kind of cardboard that was handy and I showed him how to apply it. Good for a few days but the cardboard didn’t hold up. So I had him apply it directly to the trunk. Therein may have been the start of my problems. He applied it over a much larger length than I instructed. Didn’t realize this until he came back with an almost empty tub. When I applied it I used 1/4 or maybe 1/3 of the tub. He almost finished one. The next application was done be me, personally. For the most part, I applied it over a shorter length and above where the Tanglefoot had been previously applied. This time I wore disposable gloves and just smeared a relatively thin coating on the trunks.

I can’t swear to the precise chronology of the preceding as it didn’t seem that important. Until now. Also, “discrepancies” back them didn’t take on much significance. Until now.

A few days ago our worker told me that one of the avocado trees “fell over”. My initial thought was that somehow one of the two recently planted avocadoes had experienced an “anomaly”. Such was not the case.

A sizeable tree, 10-12 ft or more, planted before we actually moved on the property, did indeed “fall over”. WTF?

It broke in an area that had most recently received Tanglefoot. And right in an area that showed a constriction of the trunk. Something I had noticed on other trees but just decided to blow off at the time.

In this and the preceding photo you can see how the diameter of the tree is “sucked in” where the Tanglefoot was applied. An earlier application of Tanglefoot lower down shows a similar constriction of the trunk.

After this. other, similar events started to arrive at my recollective consciouness. An African Tulip tree had just “broken” mysteriously. Puzzled, but eventually I just forgot about it. If I go back far enough I might be able to find a photo of it at the time. But for now this photo should suffice. You can see where the break occurred at the base of the V. The tree put out two new branches just below the break.

This photo also shows quite clearly a blistering of the trunk. It could have come only from Tanglefoot. Other trees show this same effect but not quite as dramatically.

A loquat, planted from seed more or less two years ago, was thriving. Some time after applying Tanglefoot I noticed a constricting of the trunk where Tanglefoot had been applied. Again, WTF? But I just blew it off. About 6 or 8 wks ago the leaves started dying. Now it really has my attention. But what can be done at this point?

This is the greatest narrowing of the trunk relative to the trunk diameter of any tree with Tanglefoot.

A Mamon Chino, planted hardly a year ago, was thriving. But then again, this is an easy-to-grow, fast growing tree. Same thing happened. Similar results with a small mulberry tree. So far four trees, not counting the large avocado, have been killed by Tanglefoot. I think the evidence is more than circumstantial. Two additional large avocado trees have a constricting of the trunk at application site. It remains to be seen if these, too, will fall over.

Mango and citrus have, so far, been unaffected.

I found an insecticide in pellet form called Fipronil that seems to be quite effective. I sprinkle just a little on the nest and maybe trails leading into the nest. Contrary to what I read earlier, I observed on multiple occasions leaf cutter ants taking the bait and carrying it into the nest. It seems to wipe them out overnight. Maybe not as ecologically friendly as Tanglefoot, but it’s certainly not harming my trees.

I may or may not continue with Tanglefoot. I have four unopened tubs now. But there’s no way I will be applying it directly to the trunk anymore.

A Stormy Night in Panama

We’re certainly in the heart of the rainy season and heavy rains are not uncommon. But high winds are. Trees were down all over but at our place not much was damaged.

A substantial mango seedling was blown over, in spite of being staked. Here’s a photo after I righted the tree.

Mango seedling

What I didn’t notice at the time was a hummingbird nest in the tree, not quite six feet above the ground.

Hummingbird nest

It was empty, of course, and after the relatively severe conditions of last night there was little chance of finding any eggs or baby birds. We chose to think that the nest was empty before the storm hit.

The only other damage that we found was a platano (plantain) blown over, flat on the ground.

Unidentified plant with platano behind it. Platano pup to the left.

This is not a terrific loss as we still have platanos in the freezer from the last crop, after giving away substantial numbers. Besides, these will likely mature once we hang them up on the porch.

This entry was posted on August 6, 2020. 1 Comment

Home Building Experiences in Panama

Yesterday we were out at the property where our home is being built.  When construction started a couple months ago we had a beautiful, 12 to 14 wide driveway.

It took no time at all for delivery trucks to ruin it.  They would invariably run into the ditch on the downward slope of the drive, ignoring the 8 ft of width that would have been available to them.   It very much looks like these drivers simply don’t know how to drive.

Shortly after noon yesterday, a dump truck attempted to back up our drive with a load of fill material, basically sand and rocks.  He didn’t get very far.



We normally arrive at the property around 7AM and are ready to call it a day by 1PM.  At 1PM today we realized we weren’t going anywhere.  The truck had too much of our driveway hopelessly blocked.  So we waited.  For two hours we waited, unable to get an answer as to when help for this guy might arrive.

Shortly after 3:00 we decided I would hike to the main road, get a bus into Volcan, and come back with our friend Suzi’s car.  I barely arrived at the bus stop when a black pickup turned off the main road with another dump truck right behind him.  The dump truck turned around to back up, hopefully heading for our driveway.  In the process of turning around, he managed to break a neighbor’s water line, buried only slightly below the surface.   As I was the only person around when they realized the damage, I’m the one they came after.  All I could do then was offer my sympathy and apology and the assurance that someone would fix it.

I walked back toward our property, confident that the second dump truck was there to pull out the first one.  My relief turned to more frustration as I found the the second truck was now stuck as well.  The main road was now blocked to all but horse traffic.


The afternoon rain began in earnest by about 3:30.  The work crew was ready to leave.  But how?  One of the workers suggested going through our neighbor’s manicured lawn, after pulling out a section of barbed wire fencing.  In no way was I in favor of this, but on seeing that’s exactly what they were going to do, I went along with it.

Then there was the matter of getting to the main road with the two trucks blocking the way.  One of the workers knew a back way to the main road so we followed him.  It was 20 minutes or so of really bad road, followed by maybe 10 minutes of paved road, and we were back on the main road, Via Volcan, just a couple miles below the road to our property.  We stopped by on our way back home to see if there was any progress in getting the trucks out.  There was not.

By this morning the second truck had been extricated but the first remained in place.  Along with a huge mess.

Traffic Fines in Panama

The traffic fines here were recently updated.  It’s interesting to know where they put the priorities.

  • Driving while intoxicated – Loss of driver’s license
  • Driving with alcohol on the breath – $150
  • Running a red light – $100  (Interesting note:  Volcan has no traffic lights, neither does Boquete or Concepcion.  David, second largest city in the country, has 4, possibly 5.)
  • Driving while talking on phone – $75
  • Driving w/o seatbelt fastened – $75
  • Driving on shoulder – $50
  • Speeding – $50 (Interesting note:  Everyone, but everyone, speeds here yet I’ve never seen nor heard of anyone getting a ticket.)


Illegal Aliens

Image may contain: 2 people, people smiling, meme and text

A friend on mine from high school forwarded this to me, and I in turn forwarded it to people on my own mailing list.

I usually verify things like this before passing them on but didn’t this time.    I needn’t have worried.  There are plenty of websites devoted to the subject.  And they reveal more heinous details than the photos and captions can possibly convey.

A neighbor of ours here made this comment via e-mail, and I think it says it so well…

When Panama finds a person without permission to be in the country they will put him in prison for a couple of weeks while they process the paperwork to drive him to the closest boarder and kick him out.  No one complains about that.  Most countries do the same.  What make the Democrates think it should be different in the USA?


Dealing with Bureaucrats

We’re building a new house here and it’s proving to be quite an experience.  If we’d known what we were getting into we probably would have never started the project.  Paper work and bureaucrats seem to be required at every turn.  And nothing moves fast.

We got up at 5:30 today so we could meet our architect and take him to our property for the long-awaited septic system perc test.  It should be the last bit of approval we need before applying for construction electricity.    We had loaded the car to 3-passenger capacity,  mostly with plants that needed to be transported to the land.  We somehow didn’t realize a fourth person would be joining us; perhaps we should have.   Arriving at the architect’s office we learned of the additional person.  So we had to download some plants and such at his place in order to make room for a dept of health inspector.

Then we’re off to pick him up. On the other side of town, his office had the appearance of being way down the list on funding priorities.  Wonder if that means anything?  He was in the car only a matter of seconds when he got out, complaining of the smell of dogs.  Well!  I never pick up the dog smell in our car but we certainly haul dogs regularly. Three of them actually.

Rather indignantly he said he’d take other transportation and come to the property next week. Why he couldn’t take other transportation and come today he didn’t say.   Guess he just needed to flex some muscle.

Doing a Friend a Favor

It was intended that my next post would be regarding the conclusion of the licensing procedure. But that got trumped by this experience.

Our friend Suzi and her husband Harry had long planned a cruise leaving from Santiago, Chile. They were going to leave their pets with us. Planning to spend a week or so in Panama ahead of the cruise proved to be plans that couldn’t be kept. They barely got the animals dropped off when they had to return to Florida to deal with an unexpected turn of events. They asked us to make a local bank deposit for them. No problem. Or as they say in Panama, “Yeah, right”.

When I learned that Scotia Bank was their local bank of choice, my memory went back about 15 years to an experience on St Croix, USVI. I had not been on the island long when I realized I needed a local bank account. For no particular reason I walked into the downtown branch of Scotia Bank and inquired about opening an account. I was directed toward the back of the building. There I found a small area devoid of occupation. There was a counter and one of those little bells that my elementary school teacher had for use when she wanted to gain attention. I tapped on the bell. Before too long an employee appeared with the expected,

“Yes. Can I help you?”

“I’d like to open an account.”

“Do you have an appointment?”


“Well you have to make an appointment.”

“But there’s no one here.”

“You still have to make an appointment.”

Guess who didn’t ask for an appointment and never showed up there again?

With that background I entered a Scotia Bank in, more or less, downtown David, Panama. The first thing I noticed was a small area with a large number of chairs in a makeshift waiting room in front of the teller windows. I heard a number being called and someone vacated their chair. I groaned.

The consideration to just leave was only brief with the awareness that things would likely be no better later , maybe worse. I went to the counter where all the forms are kept. Clearly, you were expected to have the correct one filled out and ready for whenever your number might be called.

I selected the form that I thought most closely approximated the business I wanted to conduct. But soon realized this one was not correct. There was room for a loan number but not an account number.

Uncharacteristically, I broke line. Trying to display the total confusion I actually felt, I asked the teller to please identify the correct form. He asked for “my” account number. Huh? Well, I gave it to him. “Oh, for that account number you have to go to a different branch, across town.” WTF? Different branches for different account numbers? Well, this is Panama. And I already knew about Scotia.

Arriving at the “correct” bank branch I was met with another surprise. No one waiting for service. No one in line at any of the tellers. No desk with eight different forms. I went up to what I perceived was the most attractive clerk and stated my business. She received my information verbally and I was out of there in literally minutes. This country is full of surprises.

Time for New License Plates … and Driver’s License!

The car’s plates and my driver’s license both expire the end of December. We thought we’d go down into David and knock both of them out today. We should have known better.

The license plate renewal process consists of two major steps: Getting the car inspected and then presenting the certificate at the municipio that distributes the plates.

We pulled into the same business we always use for inspections, presented them with our proof of insurance and the car’s registration and waited to be called. Didn’t take long. It seems that the car (yes, the CAR!) had an outstanding ticket.

This didn’t come as a total surprise. Back in May I got a ticket for “crossing a yellow line”, the details of which do not merit explanation or elaboration. I didn’t pay it at the time because I knew the chances were good it would be lost in the system. Even if that didn’t happen, there would be no penalty or interest for late payment. So there was absolutely no motivation for paying the fine in a timely matter.

We had to go across town to pay the fine. Fortunately for us, this facility was in the same shopping center that houses the driver’s license office. But the driver’s license for anyone over 70 (yes, I know. I scarcely look it) requires a “letter” from a geriatric (I hate that word) or internal medicine doctor. As the professional building was halfway between our present position and our destination, we would stop by on the off-chance that I could be seen sans appointment. We wanted to call first but we couldn’t remember the doctor’s name from two years ago. We did remember, however, where her office was located. As it turned out we had to wait less than 30 minutes before I could be seen.

The physical was grueling … not. She took my BP, listened to my chest, had me stand with one leg forward and close my eyes. Did I fall down? No. Next the other foot, same drill. I was done in 5 minutes. $45. Compare that to a general practitioner when the need is real for $8. But what are you gonna do?

Off we go to finish with the next order of business.

We encountered a “modest” line where the traffic fine is paid but that really wasn’t definitive. We decided that Jan would stay and pay the fine and I would proceed a couple hundred yards to get my driver’s license renewed.

The first line at the driver’s license office was looong! After 15 or 20 minutes Jan showed up, but they wouldn’t let her in! Her sleeveless blouse violated the conservative standards of the office. Oh, brother! Given the very crowded nature of the office I was tempted to just leave when Jan showed up. But I was about halfway through the line by then and decided to stick it out, knowing that I might very well learn that something more was needed for my renewal, something I was not expecting. Sure enough, it came to light that our car was registered under my old passport. Now that I had a cedula, it needed to be re-registered with the ID of the cedula. What does a driver’s license have to do with the registration of a car? We wondered but didn’t even bother to ask.

Now we needed to go to the municipio that provides the license plates. Not so bad, we would get the registration changed, get the plates, and come back here to get my driver’s license. Yeah, right.

Thirty minutes away we arrived at the municipio. After taking a number and waiting 30 or 45 minutes, we were called to a counter for service. Incredibly, the copy of the car registration that was previously sufficient was no longer. They wanted the ORIGINAL! As home is yet another 30 minutes way, we will be back tomorrow. Or maybe the day after.

Proof that Things are Out of Control, Example 3

Texas’ law penalizing “sanctuary cities” is being challenged in court.

Those cities breaking federal law are challenging a law that penalizes them for breaking the law.   So they want the law to uphold their right to break the law?