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The red imported fire fire ant, Solenopsis invicta: An exotic species invades the United States

By E. Zuidema


In the 1930s, the fire ant Solenopsis invicta Buren (or red imported fire ant —RIFA) was introduced from South America into the United States, at the port of Mobile, Alabama. In 1918 another fire ant species, S. richteri (also native in S.-America) or the black imported fire ant had been introduced at the same place; however, this species were not to be as successful as the red imported fire ant. RIFA commenced to expand its life area, interbreeding with the black imported fire ant, in the end almost totally replacing S. richteri: Today RIFA inhabits more than 275 million acres in the United States of America, yet still continues spreading. Fire ants are a serious pest in urban environments, because they interfere with gardening and outdoor activities, and occasionally invade human habitations. They commonly infest lawns, schoolyards, athletic fields, golf courses and parks. In these places, they pose a medical threat to people and animals. Fire ants may attack with little warning. After firmly grasping the skin with its jaws, the fire ant arches its back as it inserts its rear-end stinger into the flesh, injecting venom from the poison sac. It then pivots at the head and typically inflicts an average of seven to eight stings in a circular pattern. Fire ant venom is unique because of the high concentration of toxins, which are responsible for the burning sensation (hence the namefire ant). Several studies confirmed that the social organization of S. invicta in its new homeland has altered, compared to the mother population in South America. Does this account for the success of the red imported fire ant, Solenopsis invicta? Following a brief synopsis on social insects and ants Formicidae in particular, attention will be paid to the factors responsible for the successful invasion, and finally some points for future research will be listed.

Year: 2000
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