Article - Fire Ant Decapitating Flies

Long time no see. It's busy season here at SU, but I have lots to share.

The topic of the day is like something out of a science-fiction story. Imagine an insect that lays its eggs inside an organism so that its larvae eats its hosts brain from the inside. Sound far-fetched?

Read this article from EcoTone.

Pretty insane, huh? These insects, phorid flies, apparently specifically target imported red fire ants for laying their eggs. They stalk fire ant mounds and oviposit one egg in an ant's thorax where the egg will hatch. The larva goes on to eat the ant-hosts brain causing the ant to wander aimlessly for hours until the larva causes the ant's head to fall off.

Creeeeeeepy.

Fire ants, as you may know, are not native to the USA, and are quite the stubborn pests. In fact, many scientists believe that their dominance over native harvester ants is partly responsible for the decline of the Texas horned lizard.


Who wants to see this cute face go? Certainly not me - although I believe that there's more to that story (for another post).

A similar article I recently read in the Texas Parks & Wildlife Magazine described how the use of phorid flies as a biological control for fire ants is being taken to new heights.
Researchers have been experimenting with phorid flies since 1997, and in April 2009, AgriLife researchers released a species that was raised by a team at the University of Texas at Austin. Previously released species would attack only disturbed mounds, but the new species also targets undisturbed mounds and foraging ants. Other than a minimal amount of nectar consumption by adults, the phorid flies eat only fire ants, and each species of fly exclusively eats a certain species of ant.
That's incredible! These science-heavy phorid flies will now, according to this article, attack fire ants less judiciously and could push their invasive status down to a reasonable level.

Edit: I had uploaded a picture of a Desert Horned Lizard, not a Texas Horned Lizard. Whoops!

4 comments:

Katie said...

Well I guess that's one way to eliminate a fire ant problem. Are these flies harmful? I've dealt with fire ants before and would love to never again, so these ants are almost like a natural pest control.

Alex H. said...

If you'd like my opinion, I think these flies will help the fire ant problem, but certainly not eliminate it. These flies are specialists in that they only parasitize red imported fire ants (Solenopsis invicta) and leave native ant species alone (i.e., there are not yet any reported cases of this happening).

In the long run, biological controls (if tightly regulated) are better than chemical controls, too.

I also predict that unless there's a fundamental shift in the kinds of things people buy, you will never be able to just buy phorid flies and dump them on your yard. They're being released and managed by wildlife management organizations at present.

Anonymous said...

The Phorid flies kill honey bees also. This was a bad idea that was not tested on all insects. Now, we have a crisis with losing our bees.

Ant control said...

Those fire ants are ferocious.
Cool post, very informative

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