Ants in Japanese maple

I have a Japanese maple that I have shaped as an outdoor bonsai that has lots of ants in it. They are clustered at the extremities in the new growth, much like aphids on new rose buds. Are they harmful to the plant? I can detect no damage, but then I just noticed them yesterday.
HH
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snipped-for-privacy@comcast.net says... :) I have a Japanese maple that I have shaped as an outdoor bonsai that has :) lots of ants in it. They are clustered at the extremities in the new growth, :) much like aphids on new rose buds. Are they harmful to the plant? I can :) detect no damage, but then I just noticed them yesterday. :) :) HH :) :) :) They might be hiding aphid activity with their numbers...not harmful, just an indication something is going on to attact them such as honey dew from other insects to "sap" from the tree itself (can't recall if J maples have sap issues)
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Ants don't feed on plants, so it could be that there were or are aphids on the new growth and that's why the ants are there, filling up on the honeydew -- a nice name for the sticky excrement of the aphids --left by the ants.
Suzy, Wisconsin, Zone 5

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snipped-for-privacy@wi.rr.com says... :) Ants don't feed on plants, so it could be that there were or are aphids :) Technically they don't feed on plants, but some ants do extreme damage to plants. (not in OPs situation) http://citybugs.tamu.edu/FastSheets/Ent-1029.html
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My thanks for all the replies. I had another look and found ladybugs on the Japanese maple. On closer examination, I also found aphids, so the replies were right on target. My local gardening guru, who happened to drop by, confirmed the diagnosis. She explained the symbiotic relationship between aphids and ants. I will wash the lot off with water. Tomorrow I will release a bag of ladybugs and apply a nontoxic spray.
HH

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snipped-for-privacy@comcast.net says... :) aphids and ants. I will wash the lot off with water. Tomorrow I will release :) a bag of ladybugs and apply a nontoxic spray. :) :) :) hmmm assuming you mean a spray that is non(low)toxic to people, but toxic to the aphids? you probably don't want to apply the insecticide after you release ladybugs for it will effect them too.
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says...

Thanks for that caution. The spray was recommended by the said gardening guru who knows a lot more about gardening than I. I will confer with her about the spray and read the label carefully. If any doubt remains, I will rely on the ladybugs and praying mantis, if necessary supplemented by the water spray.
HH
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