Belize’s Red Fire Ants!!
Submitted by: Future Perfect Travel
Ants are among the most numerous of all the insects. The Fire ant, (Solenopsis invicta) in particular is the most common specie in Belize and all parts of the world. It is considered the most aggressive. Found in most parts of Belize, there’s no escaping these insects that roam the forest floors searching for food. There is a great diversity among ants and their behaviors. They range in size from two to about 25 millimeters (about 0.08 to 1 inch). Their color may vary, most are red or black, but other colors can also be seen.
Fire ants are symmetrical along the body, meaning that the left part is a mirror image of the right. They have hardened exoskeletons, meaning that they have no bones or internal supporting tissues, but tough protective layer for support and protection. They breathe through their trachea and their bodies can be classified into three major parts: head, thorax and abdomen. They have three pairs of legs, and a pair of antennae that seems to be invisible to the naked eye attached to the head. Just like other ants, the worker and soldier ants are sterile females. The queen is responsible for laying thousands of eggs. The number of males is low, because only one male is needed for the entire reproduction process. Contrary to what most people believe, the fire ant does not just ‘bite’. They use their jaws to anchor themselves and then, like a bee or wasp, inject venom using a sting at the tip of their abdomen. Using their strong mandibles to attach themselves to the victim’s flesh, they can sting many times continuously. Fire ants are one of the most successful groups of insects in the animal kingdom and are of particular interest because they are a social insect and formhighly organized colonies or nests, sometimes consisting of millions of individuals. Colonies of invasive ant species will sometimes work together and form super colonies, spanning a very wide area of land. Ant colonies are sometimes described as super organisms because they appear to operate as a single entity. They have colonized almost every landmass on Earth and can constitute up to 15% of the total animal biomass of a tropical rainforest. As of 2006, there are 11,844 known ant species, most of which reside in hot climates. The lifespan of Fire ant workers depend on their size. Minor workers may live 30 to 60 days, media workers 60 to 90 days, major workers 90 to 180 days, and queens may live two to six years. Complete lifecycle from egg to adult takes between 22 and 38 days. The life cycle starts when the queen mates with a male.
The sexual male and female workers have wings which allow new colonies to disperse. The sexuals (known as alates) fly into the air, sometimes as high as 100 feet (30 meter) in a large cloud and mate on the wing. After inseminating the female with sperm, the male dies. The female then searches for a suitable nest site, drops her wings and begins laying eggs. Until her first batch of workers (known as minums) are able to forage for her, the queen survives on internal fat stores and energy gained from the breakdown of her now useless flight muscles. This first group of approximately 10 eggs takes around 10 days to hatch. It is approximately 20 more days before the larvae become worker ants. The first worker ants are very small in size. Gradually, the size and number of workers increases as the queen is fed with more nutrients.
There are four different classes of Fire ants that live in a colony: winged males, winged females, workers, and queens. The Fire ant is unique in that it forms colonies with multiple queens. The Fire ant’s life is extremely organized. Every ant has a job to do. They go about doing their job day after day, without stopping. The worker’s job is to keep the larvae, pupae, and queen clean. Cleanliness appears to be extremely important to the ants. They are constantly cleaning the larvae, the pupae, the queen, and the colony. The workers also forge to find food for the colony. The Fire ant has two stomachs, one for its own food supply, and one for the colony’s food supply. The second stomach is called a crop. They feed mostly on other insects but can attack small birds and other invertebrates.
Flea larvae, chinch bugs, cockroach eggs, ticks, and other insects are also on their menu. They especially like to eat soft fruits, but the most fascinating thing about them is that they can carry food twenty times their body weight; truly fascinating.
The winged females go on mating flights and found new colonies. The male’s only job is to mate with the quite a problem. Fire ants interrupt farming production because they construct their colonies on precious farmland.
They also like to make their mounds in sunny areas. Therefore, pastures are heavily infested. The control of these ants in pastures, hay fields, and recreational turf grass is at least a $28 dollar per acre expense. Livestock and poultry can be injured and even killed by stings. Small birds such as baby quail are fair game to the expanding colony. Farm machinery is often damaged by running over a mound. Fire ants can quickly strip fruit trees of their fruit. On a positive note, experts believe that they are essential to the tropical forest ecosystem as they turn the soil and redistribute nutrients. They also clean the ecosystems by removing small dead or dying creatures which hastens decomposition. Although small, they do have a powerful bite, so don’t mess with them and watch your step!