Fire Ant Predators: Enemies and Killers

Enemies and Killers of Fire Ants

The red imported fire ant (Solenopsis invicta) is a native of Brazil, where it has natural predators.

After arriving in North America via Mobile, Ala., in the 1930s, the red imported fire ant found a hospitable climate in the American South and has spread across the country, developing colonies as far west as California and as far north as Maryland. Ideal fire ant locations have dry, sunny and flat conditions. Loose earth is preferable for mound construction.

However, the American South does not merely offer the red imported fire ant an appropriate climate within which to thrive; it is also lacking in natural fire ant predators, allowing the ant to expand unchecked. Because there are no natural fire ant predators in North America, scientists are exploring the possibility of introducing a species of phorid fly to control fire ant colonies. This South American parasite, a member of the genus Apocephalus, is also known as the ant-decapitator fly. Phorid flies lay eggs in the heads of live fire ants. As the eggs hatch, they incapacitate the host ant and the larvae consume the ant’s body for food.

Humans are the only other predator of the fire ant. It is strongly recommended that anyone experiencing a fire ant infestation contact his or her local pest control experts for efficient and effective treatment.

Fire Ant Cross Reactivity

Recently, experiments have been undertaken to determine the viability of introducing a foreign predatory species as a means of controlling the red imported fire ant. In the past decade, the phorid fly, a predator native to South America has been introduced to red imported fire ant colonies. This fly lays its eggs inside the head of the red imported fire ant. After hatching, the larvae kill their host and consume its body while developing. This has proven a potentially viable method of controlling imported red imported fire ant populations in infested areas.

This treatment, called cross reactivity, is commonly found in immunology, referring to the ability of an antibody to react with or bind an antigen that did not stimulate its production. In other words, find something that preys on ants that would also develop a desire to consume fire ants. It also can reference methods on countering the acid produced by fire ant stings.

Fire ant cross reactivity is also being studied and is yielding insightful findings in toxicology and venom-related immunization. Cross reactivity experiments have examined the correlation between fire ant venom and scorpion venom and fire ant venom and various mosquito venoms. These experiments aim to determine which chemicals present in venom are responsible for unpleasant reactions in humans. By isolating different sources of venom, it will prove easier to explore preventive measures and treatments.

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