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Invasive Species: Red Imported Fire Ants Essay

To the common folk, Solenopsis Invicta, or the Red Imported Fire Ant (RIFA), is a native specie from South America that was introduced in the United States during the 1930’s. The RIFA often attack humans, pets, and livestock, inflicting painful stings (National Invasive Species Information Center [NISIC]). The painful stings are not the only concern of people because the red imported fire ants also cause havoc in households by munching on wires of electrical equipment (University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture).

It is believed that the red imported fire ants came into the United States from Brazil through the cargo ships that unloaded shipment at Mobile Alabama late in the 1930’s. Since then, the red imported fire ants have thrived and spread on to the neighboring states. (Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service [APHIS]). Back in Brazil, their homeland, and also in their new homes, fire ants have a dual role. In their more natural habitat, far away from human settlements, the fire ants are particularly useful in the environment. They are nature’s decomposers, stripping the ground clean of any decaying material.

It is when they encounter humans that they become pests. The fire ants, in search of food, would often raid neighboring houses. Inevitably, they encounter humans, pets, and livestock. Their aggressive behavior has earned them a bad reputation which is otherwise only natural to them. When they colonized in the United States, they have become pests because of their population boom and their aggressive behavior which then inflict pain to its victims. In some cases, the victims suffer from severe allergic reactions to its bite (Invaders of the Sonoran Desert Program).

As mentioned, the very first red imported fire ants came to the US accidentally from Brazil through cargo ships. Now, much of the fire ant’s population can be found in the southern and western states of the US including Puerto Rico, amounting to more than 325 million acres of infestation (“Imported Fire Ant History”). The invasion can be blamed solely on the first introduction. Water was the only thing that was stopping the ants from reaching other places. Now that they are on land, they would continue to march and expand their habitat just as long as the environment suits their needs.

Since the red imported fir ants are natives of Brazil, it used to temperate climates which explain why it has thrived in the southern states. Fire ant nests are abundant along roadsides, trails, and infrastructure. New colonies of fire ants, on the other hand, favor the pastures as their nesting grounds. Fire ant diet is composed of almost anything they can lay their mandibles on. They are omnivorous, meaning they eat both meat and plants. Cannibalism is also normal in fire ant society—larvae and eggs are often eaten, as well as the dying members of the colony.

Even the old queen is consumed by the new (Taber 37-38). In terms of reproduction the red imported fire ants have an ironic way of copulating. Though it has never been observed, we know that they do their mating in the air at a height of about a thousand feet. It is ironic because ants spend almost their entire lives on and under the ground, and yet, their means of reproduction takes an aerial route. When the reproductive males and females are ready to mate, they grew wings and take flight. After they are done, the females dig their own nests and start a new colony.

The males, on the other hand, die because mating is their sole role in the colony (Taber 45). Problems Associated with the Invasive Species The fire ant problem poses two kinds of problems—environmental problems and economic problems. Environmental problems concern those of the effects that the fire ants do to their natural environment, while economic problems are those that concern those that make production inefficient or problems that cause money to solve. In areas where there is an overpopulation of fire ants, the fire ants may reduce significantly the number of other ground crawling insects.

Usually, it is the native insects that suffer because of the fire ant invasion—the excess number of ants entails that the other insects have to compete for food with the fire ants in order to survive, being aggressive and dominant in number, the other insects have no chance. Birds, especially the ground nesting birds, also suffer from the invasion because they can be easily reached by the fire ants. Even the tree nesting birds are not safe because fire ants can climb trees with ease and attack the chicks of birds.

The presence of the fire ants causes other species’ population to decline, thus being an environmental problem. Another environmental effect is the overuse of insecticides in an attempt to eliminate them (“Other Impacts of Fire Ants”). As an economic pest, the red imported fire ant cause damages to property and agricultural produce. Fire ants often forage on soybean plantation, causing as much as $ 156. 4 million in loses. Fire ants may nest on sidewalks and inside houses, causing the immediate surroundings to be damaged (Vinson and Sorenson 38).

The red fire ant is not a native species of the US. It is the introduction (though unintentional) that has caused and continue to cause problems for the people. The ants are not accustomed to its new environment; this makes the ants try to do everything they can in order to survive. Their means of survival come into conflict with people because of the ants’ proximity to the area where people reside. Had the ants been living in their natural environment and far from people, they would not be such a nuisance. Control Mechanisms

Based on these problems associated with the red imported fire ants, the simplest way to minimize the fire ant problem is to get rid of the mounds physically. This method will not remove the ants totally, but at least, it would help in bringing their numbers down. One way of doing this is to drag heavy objects across a pasture to flatten mounds (Drees). The most common way of controlling any pest is through the use of chemicals—the mound would be flooded with insecticides which are available in the market (Lockley).

However, the best and safest way to probably eradicate or at least minimize the fire ant problem is through natural means like introducing a predatory specie that prey on the fire ants such as the Phorid flies which also came from Brazil. An article from mindfully. org explains that the flies would hover first and then dart towards the head of the fire ants and plant a seed inside their head. When the egg hatches, the maggot would literally eat the ant from the inside. The maggot grows on to become an adult fly, and the process is repeated (Brasher).

Thus, not only is the natural means friendly to the environment, it is also an effective way of reducing the fire ants’ population. Summary and Conclusion Destroying the mound physically is an easy and virtually cost-free way of minimizing the problem but not as effective compared to the other means. Though chemicals means is much more effective way than physically the destroying the mounds, but it also does not provide a permanent solution to the fire ant problem. It can also have effects which are harmful to our environment.

The natural means (introducing of the predatory flies) is the most effective way of limiting the problem. Although it has not yet proven its worth, previous pest problems have proven that using this natural means is an effective and safe way of limiting the fire ant population. Since the natural means is a safe and effective way of solving the problem, it is the best plan of action that should be followed in order to minimize the effects of the invasive species. Works Cited Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. “Red Imported Fire Ant. ” Not All Alien Invaders

are from Outer Space. Washington, DC: US Department of Agriculture. 5 Apr. 2009. <http://www. aphis. usda. gov/lpa/pubs/invasive/ifacard. pdf>. Brasher, Philip. “USDA Unleashing Brazilian Phorid Flies to Eat Fire Ants. ”Mindfully. org. 16 Nov. 2000. 5 Apr. 2009. <http://www. mindfully. org/Heritage/USDA-Imports-Phorid-Flies. htm>. Drees, Bastiaan M. “Managing Red Imported Fire Ants in Wildlife Areas. ” Fire Ant Plan Fact Sheet #006. May 2002. Texas A&M University. 5 Apr. 2009. <http://fireant. tamu. edu/materials/factsheets_pubs/pdf/FAPFS006. 2002rev.

pdf>. “Imported Fire Ant History. ” eXtension. 23 Jun. 2008. 5 Apr. 2009. <http://www. extension. org/pages/Imported_Fire_Ant_History>. Invaders of the Sonoran Desert Program. “Red Imported Fire Ant (Solenopsis invicta). ” Arizona- Sonora Desert Museum. 5 Apr. 2009. <http://www. desertmuseum. org/invaders/invaders_fireant. htm> Lockley, Timothy C. “Radcliffe’s IPM World Textbook: Imported Fire Ants. ” University of Minnesota. 12 Aug. 1996. 5 Apr. 2009. <http://ipmworld. umn. edu/chapters/lockley. htm>. National Invasive Species Information Center.

“Species Profiles: Red Imported Fire Ant. ” National Invasive Species Information Center. 26 Mar. 2009. National Agricultural Library, United States Department of Agriculture. 5 Apr. 2009. <http://www. invasivespeciesinfo. gov/animals/rifa. shtml>. “Other Impacts of Fire Ants. ” Extension. org. 20 Jun. 2008. 5 Apr. 2009. <http://www. extension. org/pages/Other_Impacts_of_Fire_Ants>. Taber, Stephen W. Fire Ants. College Station, Texas: Texas A&M University Press, 2000. University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture. “Insect Management: Red Imported Fire Ants. ”


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