Fire Ants – A Mound of Trouble

Fire Ants – A Mound of Trouble

Slowly but surely, Brazilian fire ants have been spreading their range throughout the southern United States. They’ve got a nasty sting and have caused extensive damage to livestock and property. Well, now scientists are studying the ants’ habits and communication, searching for ways to control them. I’m Jim Metzner and this is Pulse of the Planet. Larry Gilbert is an ecologist at the University of Texas in Austin.

“Well, fire ants are distinguished primarily by the type of mound they create which is a loose dirt mound that is built up virtually over night after a rain. Most of the time they spend underground. I think the average person would spot them by their mound like a gopher mound that comes up in your lawn.”

A single mound of fire ants can have many queens, which makes the species difficult to control.

“Polygenous fire ants, or the multiple queen fire ants, don’t fight with each other. The colonies don’t fight with each other they treat each other like sisters basically and so therefore different colonies can live right next door to each other. And as a result you find much higher densities of fire ants in places like Texas then you do where single queen fire ants dominate.”

Fire ants have several ways of communicating, which makes them stronger as a group, but also vulnerable to potential predators.

“Fire ants have an elaborate set of chemical cues that involve trail odors and alarm odors when their mounds are disturbed and in ants these kind of communication chemicals are very often rather species specific. They can also produce high frequency sounds when they’re upset, as a warning signal between ants.”

ambience: fire ant sound

Right now we’re listening to the sounds of fire ants. In future programs, we’ll hear how they might be controlled by other predatory insects which can hone in on the ants chemical signals.

Pulse of the Planet is presented with support provided by the National Science Foundation. I’m Jim Metzner.

music

Fire Ants - A Mound of Trouble

Brazilian fire ants are challenging to control because of their adaptability and their web of chemo-communication.
Air Date:03/15/2007
Scientist:
Transcript:

Fire Ants - A Mound of Trouble

Slowly but surely, Brazilian fire ants have been spreading their range throughout the southern United States. They've got a nasty sting and have caused extensive damage to livestock and property. Well, now scientists are studying the ants' habits and communication, searching for ways to control them. I'm Jim Metzner and this is Pulse of the Planet. Larry Gilbert is an ecologist at the University of Texas in Austin.

"Well, fire ants are distinguished primarily by the type of mound they create which is a loose dirt mound that is built up virtually over night after a rain. Most of the time they spend underground. I think the average person would spot them by their mound like a gopher mound that comes up in your lawn."

A single mound of fire ants can have many queens, which makes the species difficult to control.

"Polygenous fire ants, or the multiple queen fire ants, don't fight with each other. The colonies don't fight with each other they treat each other like sisters basically and so therefore different colonies can live right next door to each other. And as a result you find much higher densities of fire ants in places like Texas then you do where single queen fire ants dominate."

Fire ants have several ways of communicating, which makes them stronger as a group, but also vulnerable to potential predators.

"Fire ants have an elaborate set of chemical cues that involve trail odors and alarm odors when their mounds are disturbed and in ants these kind of communication chemicals are very often rather species specific. They can also produce high frequency sounds when they're upset, as a warning signal between ants."

ambience: fire ant sound

Right now we're listening to the sounds of fire ants. In future programs, we'll hear how they might be controlled by other predatory insects which can hone in on the ants chemical signals.

Pulse of the Planet is presented with support provided by the National Science Foundation. I'm Jim Metzner.

music