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Thursday, March 6, 2014

Revenge of the Crazy Ants

This is a fire ant (Solenopsis invicta). 

Solenopsis invicta

Although it originated in South America, there’s a good chance you are more familiar with it than you want to be. Fire ants are now pests throughout much of the world. Among their charms is an extremely painful venom and a willingness to attack.

If you live in the southern United States, you may be pleased to hear that fire ants have met their match in another invader from South America, the crazy ant (Nylanderia fulva). 

Nylanderia fulva
Photographed by April Nobile, 6/8/07
Fire ants easily dispatch most other ant species from their territories, but the crazy ants are not only holding their own, they’re actually displacing the fire ants. How?

Edward LeBrun, Nathan Jones and Lawrence Gilbert of The University of Texas at Austin found that the crazy ants can detoxify the venom of the fire ants, rendering the latter weaponless in the ensuing battle. The crazy ants do this by daubing themselves with their own abdominal secretions.

Crazy ants that were permitted to detoxify the fire ant venom had a 98% survival rate. That rate dropped in half when the crazy ants' own venom glands were sealed, preventing them from applying the antidote. With the arrival of crazy ants, it looks like fire ants' days may be numbered.

The news isn't all good. While crazy ants are likely to spread more slowly than fire ants did, they will eventually cause many of the same problems, devastating native populations of insects, and, in turn, the animals that depend on those insects.

You can read more about this here

Lebrun EG, Jones NT, & Gilbert LE (2014). Chemical Warfare Among Invaders: A Detoxification Interaction Facilitates an Ant Invasion. Science (New York, N.Y.) PMID: 24526314.

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