Fire Ants Disappearing From the South

Fire Ants Disappearing From the South
A new study in the Journal of Science may have finally answered the question where the fire ants have gone. Recently fire ants have been disappearing from the south and crazy ants have taken over. All over the south portion of the United States scientists have seen this peculiar ant variety take over. Fire ants are not native to the United States; they arrived in the 1930s from South America.

Fire ants, named aptly because of their powerful venom, have been a fearsome foe for many years, attacking people, livestock, and other insects. They have aggressively moved across the United States. Recently, though, epidemiologists have seen a decrease in the number of these types  of ants, and in 2002 one researcher figured out why.

Fire ants attack by dabbing their enemies with venom powerful enough that it usually kills other insects. However, the crazy ants they are somehow able to neutralize this venom, and now, thanks to Ed LeBrun and researchers from the University of Texas at Austin, scientists finally know how. The study conducted by LeBrun and his researchers hopes to answer the question about where in the south the disappearing fire ants have gone.

Sometime in early 2000, possibly 2002, the crazy ants arrived. Mostly in Texas and Florida, these ants get their name from their erratic behavior as well as their look. Since arriving on the scene they have steamrolled over other ants and until recently scientists were not sure how. Ashlee Rowe, an evolutionary neurobiologists from Michigan State University, believes that these crazy ants are unique, and that not a lot of prey can break down the molecules of their predators venom in order to protect themselves the way these insects can.

LeBrun stated that his team watched as the crazy ants, when attacked, would stand on their hind legs, curl their abdomens and secrete an acidic substance that would neutralize the venom. To further understand how this worked LeBrun and his team of scientists took crazy ants and covered them with nail polish. They then put the ants in with fire ants. Only about half of the crazy ants survived the experiment, as opposed to 98 percent who were not doused in nail polish, according the Mother Nature Network.

At this point the scientists are not sure how the acid works to protect the crazy ants. One theory is that the acid eats away at the proteins in the venom. Researchers were able to determine that both crazy ants and fire ants are native to Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil and that their territories overlap which, scientists hypothesize how they built up immunity to the venom.

Fire ants build mounds in yards, where the crazy ants invade homes, most of the time getting into electronics and appliances. While fire ants continue disappearing from the south, the takeover is not all good. LeBrun said that most people in the south who have had to deal with both types, say that they would gladly take the fire ants. LeBrun and his team will continue doing further research while they try to determine how exactly the crazy ant is able to counter the toxins in the other insects venom.

By Rachel Woodruff

Science Magazine
Mother Nature Network

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