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-   -   Fire ants on the decline in the US? (http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?t=812444)

Darren Garrison 11-30-2016 07:52 AM

Fire ants on the decline in the US?
 
Fire ants first started becoming common here in South Carolina in the late 80s/early 90s. They used to be everywhere, and no matter how much poison you used on the mounds, it wasn't long before a new mound popped up. They are so small that you can't keep them out of your house with anything short of an airlock, and they know how to cut their way into unopened food packages. They would build small nests in electronics (for the warmth.) I'd hate to guess how many hundreds of times I've been stung by them, both inside and out. And it became a rare novelty to see a "normal" larger, non-stinging native ant. They were little short of a biblical-level plague.

And yet, in the past few years I see only a small fraction as many as I used to, either mounds or individuals/lines of them foraging, and "normal" ants are common sights again. Anyone else noticed a decline? Is it possible that some population-controlling factors have come into play?

CurtC 11-30-2016 09:01 AM

Here in Texas, we got them in the late 70s - I recall getting stung by one the first time when I was a teenager.

I have wondered if there are fewer mounds than there used to be, or whether it's just me getting numb to seeing them. When I lived on a typical suburban lot in Plano, I got them all the time, but now I live on a lot that's completely covered by big trees, and I don't recall seeing a single mound in my yard in the 15 years I've been here. I suspect they like open areas bettter. Because they're not such of an issue for me anymore, maybe I just don't notice them as much.

Crotalus 11-30-2016 09:07 AM

Here's a story from 2012 about it.

DSYoungEsq 11-30-2016 09:17 AM

After looking through several sites, it does not appear that anyone is reporting any decline in the incidence of the red imported fire ant in America.

Vicsage 11-30-2016 09:30 AM

Much fewer fire ants in South Florida where I've lived for 50 years. Less mosquitoes too. Less honeybees. Less flees, less ticks. Maybe its just that so much more land is paved and urbanized, but come to think of it, I'm not even seeing dragonflies over my pool anymore. They were common a few years ago. And the wasp nests I battled for years around my house also seem gone.

Darren Garrison 11-30-2016 09:32 AM

Oh, that reminds me of a photo I took in the early 2000s--sitting on my front porch, I noticed a black ant (of unknown native species) doing something pretty active, and I when I got close I saw that it was busily decapitating fire ants--not eating them, just killing every one in reach. (Not that I'm implying "ant wars" to be a cause for their perceived decline, just a pretty cool photo.)

ftg 12-01-2016 07:25 AM

Sounds like the OP is mixing up some characteristics of fire ants with crazy ants. The latter likes to invade homes and snuggle in electronics. Never heard of fire ants doing that.

The article Crotalus links to mentions something interesting: former multi-queen colonies are now single queen. The latter is the norm for most species. But when a new type of ant invades an area, the resulting colonies have negligible genetic variation which means that the offspring of different queens don't recognize each other as non-siblings and therefore don't go to war but just mix in with them.

An extreme example of this are Argentine ants which have formed basically one giant single colony in S. California.

Perhaps some mutations have occurred and now different colonies can spot the difference. This results in greater spacing between colonies and hence fewer mounds/acre. But once that happens, the population will again stabilize.

So, maybe the solution to invasive stuff like the Argentine ants is to bring in more ants from the native range to introduce genetic variation.

Ionizer 12-01-2016 08:35 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by ftg (Post 19821484)
Sounds like the OP is mixing up some characteristics of fire ants with crazy ants. The latter likes to invade homes and snuggle in electronics. Never heard of fire ants doing that.

Fire ants DO like getting into 'electrical areas' of where there is cabling, etc. It was one reason the proposed Texas Supercollider was abandoned (per my friend's Dad, a geologist on the project) and a link to an article about it.

I grew up just north of Houston, and can remember fire ants getting into AC units and other outdoor electrical sites. They love those places, IME, though that was 35-40+ yrs ago. Just saying....

No idea on population increase/decrease, however :)

carnivorousplant 12-01-2016 09:57 AM

An article says that crazy ants are displacing fire ants, and that droughts and hard freezes kill fire ants.
Have there been any hard freezes in Miami ?

Leo Bloom 12-01-2016 10:43 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by carnivorousplant (Post 19821907)
An article says that crazy ants are displacing fire ants, and that droughts and hard freezes kill fire ants.
...

So do carnivorous plants, as you know.

carnivorousplant 12-01-2016 10:56 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Leo Bloom (Post 19822042)
So do carnivorous plants, as you know.

Displace fireants or die in droughts and freezes? :dubious:

Jackmannii 12-01-2016 11:02 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by carnivorousplant (Post 19821907)
An article says that crazy ants are displacing fire ants, and that droughts and hard freezes kill fire ants.
Have there been any hard freezes in Miami ?

If droughts and hard freezes were fatal to fire ants, there'd be very few of them in Texas. Unfortunately, they withstand both conditions very well.

And yes, fire ants are attracted to things electrical. When I lived in SE Texas, I'd sometimes see them entering the house through AC sockets. :eek:

carnivorousplant 12-01-2016 11:26 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Jackmannii (Post 19822085)

And yes, fire ants are attracted to things electrical. When I lived in SE Texas, I'd sometimes see them entering the house through AC sockets. :eek:

Was anything plugged into the socket?

dtilque 12-01-2016 12:53 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Vicsage (Post 19818947)
Much fewer fire ants in South Florida where I've lived for 50 years. Less mosquitoes too. Less honeybees. Less flees, less ticks. Maybe its just that so much more land is paved and urbanized, but come to think of it, I'm not even seeing dragonflies over my pool anymore. They were common a few years ago. And the wasp nests I battled for years around my house also seem gone.

Perhaps killed off by the insecticides used to fight Aedes aegypti.

bump 12-01-2016 01:37 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by CurtC (Post 19818857)
Here in Texas, we got them in the late 70s - I recall getting stung by one the first time when I was a teenager.

I have wondered if there are fewer mounds than there used to be, or whether it's just me getting numb to seeing them. When I lived on a typical suburban lot in Plano, I got them all the time, but now I live on a lot that's completely covered by big trees, and I don't recall seeing a single mound in my yard in the 15 years I've been here. I suspect they like open areas bettter. Because they're not such of an issue for me anymore, maybe I just don't notice them as much.

Depends on where in Texas; they were in SE Texas as early as the 1950s, and they were imported into the US through Mobile, AL in the 1930s.

I don't see them as frequently in N. Texas as I did in SE Texas (Houston/Galveston area). Perhaps there's some sort of climate-related factor that makes a difference, and drier/colder areas see less infestation?

Anecdotally, it does seem rather weird that I can't remember finding but maybe one or two fire ant mounds in my backyard over the nearly 10 years since I've lived in our house. Growing up, there was always a sort of continual anti-fire ant patrol- kids would find them, report them to the parents, who'd usually treat the yard with Amdro and dump a big pot of boiling water on the mound. Problem solved... for a while until more ants migrated into the yard.

Jackmannii 12-01-2016 03:40 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by carnivorousplant (Post 19822148)
Was anything plugged into the socket?

Nope.

voltaire 12-01-2016 03:58 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Crotalus (Post 19818876)
Here's a story from 2012 about it.

Good link, with an interesting bit I never knew about Phoridae flies, which resemble fruit flies, that were intentionally introduced to fight the fire ants.

Quote:

Originally Posted by wiki
Phorid flies also represent a new and hopeful means by which to control fire ant populations in the southern United States, where fire ants were accidentally introduced in the 1930s. The genus Pseudacteon, or ant-decapitating fly, of which 110 species have been documented, is a parasitoid of the ant in South America. Pseudacteon species reproduce by laying eggs in the thorax of the ant. The first instar larvae migrate to the head. The larvae develop by feeding on the hemolymph, muscle tissue, and nervous tissue in the head. Eventually, the larvae completely devour the ant's brain, causing it to do nothing but wander aimlessly for about two weeks.[10] After about two[11] to four[10] weeks, they cause the ant's head to fall off by releasing an enzyme that dissolves the membrane attaching the ant's head to its body. The fly pupates in the detached head capsule, requiring a further two weeks before emerging. Various species of Phoridae have been introduced throughout the southeast United States, starting with Travis, Brazos, and Dallas Counties in Texas, as well as Mobile, Alabama, where the ants first entered North America.

[BOLDING MINE] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phorid...l_of_fire_ants

Quote:

Originally Posted by Vicsage (Post 19818947)
Much fewer fire ants in South Florida where I've lived for 50 years. Less mosquitoes too. Less honeybees. Less flees, less ticks. Maybe its just that so much more land is paved and urbanized, but come to think of it, I'm not even seeing dragonflies over my pool anymore. They were common a few years ago. And the wasp nests I battled for years around my house also seem gone.

I can backup this anecdotal evidence over a period of ~40 years. There sure are a lot of those things I used to think were just native fruit flies, though...

Quote:

Originally Posted by ftg (Post 19821484)
So, maybe the solution to invasive stuff like the Argentine ants is to bring in more ants from the native range to introduce genetic variation.

Quote:

Originally Posted by wiki
In January 2012, a researcher discovered larvae in the test tube of a dead honey bee believed to have been affected by colony collapse disorder.[12] The larvae had not been there the night before. The larvae were Apocephalus borealis, a parasitoid fly known to prey on bumblebees and wasps. The phorid fly lays eggs on the bee's abdomen, which hatch and feed on the bee. Infected bees act oddly, foraging at night and gathering around lights like moths. Eventually, the bee leaves the colony to die. The phorid fly larvae then emerge from the neck of the bee.

Whoops!

Quote:

Originally Posted by dtilque (Post 19822397)
Perhaps killed off by the insecticides used to fight Aedes aegypti.

That particular spraying is very recent and the phenomenon being discussed has been happening for some time, but there has always been regular insecticide spraying to control the general mosquito population, so who knows...

voltaire 12-01-2016 04:01 PM

This additional tidbit, from one of the wiki cites, is interesting:
Quote:

Plowes said fire ants are "very aware" of these tiny flies, and it only takes a few to cause the ants to modify their behavior. "Just one or two flies can control movement or above-ground activity," Plowes said. "It's kind of like a medieval activity where you're putting a castle under siege."
https://web.archive.org/web/20090522...latchy/3231765

carnivorousplant 12-01-2016 06:10 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Jackmannii (Post 19822819)
Nope.

Then there is no current, and no right hand rule magnetic field to attract them. Perhaps that is just an easy entrance, and they can chill out on current flow inside the house.

Isilder 12-02-2016 09:23 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Jackmannii (Post 19822085)
If droughts and hard freezes were fatal to fire ants, there'd be very few of them in Texas. Unfortunately, they withstand both conditions very well.


No it means they survive those events in Texas.
Drought is the amount of rain, but of course rock contains ground water and texas plants survive the drought and provide moisture to ants while there is a drought.

But your use of "hard freeze" in texas ?? Texas freeze is a layer of snow for a few days. A new england hard freeze is frozen ground down so deep for months. I dont think Texas gets hard freeze, so Texas is no counter example.

Florida... the ants like a Florida "Drought". They don't survive the season of water logged ground.

Jackmannii 12-02-2016 10:31 PM

There's good evidence that not only fire ants, but other ant species are attracted to electrical equipment.

"Once ants in a switching mechanism bridge the gap between an open switch, they are shocked and electrocuted. The shocked ants release communication chemicals (pheromones) or other signals that attract other worker ants. The result is that switching unit can become tightly packed with the bodies of dead worker ants, causing a failure of the mechanism."

http://fireant.tamu.edu/files/2013/0...11_2007rev.pdf
https://articles.extension.org/pages...to-electricity

Whether this mechanism becomes operative in electrical sockets (regardless of whether they're in active use) I have no idea; but I've heard invasion/colonization by such means described by other homeowners. And while there are plenty of entry points in a home that are more convenient for fire ants, I don't recall having a problem with them coming in via cracks around windows and doors (for instance).
Quote:

Originally Posted by Isilder
But your use of "hard freeze" in texas ?? Texas freeze is a layer of snow for a few days. A new england hard freeze is frozen ground down so deep for months. I dont think Texas gets hard freeze, so Texas is no counter example.

A "hard freeze" is a descriptive term generally used to describe temps that fall below freezing for at least a few hours, sufficient to kill tender vegetation. Most of Texas (even the Gulf Coast region where I lived) gets hard freezes every winter; it's not unusual for DFW to get into the teens a few times.

The range of the fire ant includes most of Texas (the panhandle is apparently still too cold for them) and much of the South, including places that get a goodly amount of cold weather and freezes (such as a large chunk of Tennessee).

carnivorousplant 12-03-2016 09:11 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Jackmannii (Post 19826286)
"Once ants in a switching mechanism bridge the gap between an open switch, they are shocked and electrocuted. The shocked ants release communication chemicals (pheromones) or other signals that attract other worker ants. The result is that switching unit can become tightly packed with the bodies of dead worker ants, causing a failure of the mechanism."

I've had to seal the pressure switch on a water pump to prevent this. I believe it is the electric field in the relay that attracts them.

Ants have sometimes invaded the A/C compressor relay at Mama Plant's house.

bump 12-03-2016 12:10 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Jackmannii (Post 19826286)
Most of Texas (even the Gulf Coast region where I lived) gets hard freezes every winter; it's not unusual for DFW to get into the teens a few times.

The Gulf Coast (Houston) tends to get the occasional hard freeze- like a handful of nights per winter where the temperature is below freezing for a few hours in the early morning.

North Texas (Dallas) tends to get frequent temperatures below zero, and often it's below freezing for most of the night. Sometimes we end up with back to back cold fronts, and end up with stretches where the highs are below freezing for a few days and the lows are in the lower teens/upper single digits- the week leading up to the 2011 Super Bowl is a good example- the lows were in the 10-15 F range, and the highs were in the mid-20s, and we had 2-3 bouts of ice/snow through there.

Not particularly terrible winter weather by say... Chicago, Boston or Minneapolis standards, but enough to make a sizeable dent in insect populations.

pompeybear 12-03-2016 02:27 PM

They seem as bad as ever here in central Texas (at least as far as I can tell). I have mounds popping up in my yard constantly. We used to have a lot more bugs in general than we do now, which as i understand it, is attributable to the fire ants. I've also heard that the decrease in horny toads (which used to be everywhere) and quail are tied to the fire ants. On the plus side, we used to have ridiculous amounts of chiggers and I don't think I've been bitten in the last 15 years.

SingleVoyce 02-26-2017 01:32 PM

Fire ants are back
 
Four years ago, the crazy ants arrived in my yard and drove out the fire ants. For the next couple of years the crazy ants were swarming everywhere. Last year, the population of crazy ants declined dramatically and now they seem to be gone altogether and the fire ants are back. Anybody else experience this?

Jackmannii 02-26-2017 02:51 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by SingleVoyce (Post 20028089)
Four years ago, the crazy ants arrived in my yard and drove out the fire ants. For the next couple of years the crazy ants were swarming everywhere. Last year, the population of crazy ants declined dramatically and now they seem to be gone altogether and the fire ants are back. Anybody else experience this?

Stories like this are while I'm nostalgic for the Texas ecosystem.* :dubious:

Not coincidentally perhaps, one of the sponsored ads I'm seeing at the bottom of the page is for a t-shirt with the logo "Whiskey Bent & Hellbound".

*even if you're from somewhere else, this totally sounds like Texas.

SingleVoyce 02-26-2017 03:10 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Jackmannii (Post 20028267)
Stories like this are while I'm nostalgic for the Texas ecosystem.* :dubious:

Not coincidentally perhaps, one of the sponsored ads I'm seeing at the bottom of the page is for a t-shirt with the logo "Whiskey Bent & Hellbound".

*even if you're from somewhere else, this totally sounds like Texas.


I should have mentioned my location in my original post. I am from Texas. I live in North Galveston county near the bay.


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