You are on page 1of 8

Behavioral response in disturbed Solenopsis invicta

populations and other factor in the hive

Clayton Wilks
Honors Biology B8

The common fire ant, or Solenopsis invicta, is one of the most widespread
species of ant in the southern United States. This ant species is an invasive one,
coming from the South American central countries, and have spread upward
rapidly. While this spread is numerous, it is not natural. Their invasion began with
imported soil, which was contaminated with fire ant queens. This fire ant species is
known for its aggression towards nest attackers, and also how quickly they breed
and spread, producing thousands of ants in a day for each nest. Within this
experiment, the lab group will determine the number of ants in different sized nest,
and compare them to one another.


The species Solenopsis invicta, more commonly known as the fire ant, is one
of the most adaptable invasive species to be introduced, most likely brought to the
U.S. through transportation of contaminated soil and plants; they have quickly
spread naturally through movement of the queen and subsequent offspring. Left
undisturbed for several years, this ant species has spread throughout the South
States of the United States. The temperature of the southern states, usually more
temperate than its northern counterparts, has allowed for the fire ant populations
to continuously spread without the challenge of freezing out throughout the year.

Like other eusocial species, such as bees and other ant species, fire ants are
highly complex in their ability to communicate through pheromones and other ways
to interact with one another. This high level of communication creates quick
response times when a disturbance occurs on or near the nesting area. However, the
times response, although rapid, can very between nest. Factors that can affect this
include nest size, number of individuals, humidity, and temperature. The first two
factor, size and numbers, are quite obvious. Yet the latter, humidity and
temperature are less noticeable. With an increase in humidity, fire ants, along with
other ant species, increase activity, which is shown in the increase of the outer nest

pile. With temperature though, it is the opposite. Fire ant will bury down deeper
into their subterranean compartments, reducing the chance of overheating. This
also may affect the number of ant released when a disturbance occurs in or near the
nest. Most nest have a population size of 80,000, but this can increase to more than
200,000 (Vinson and Sorenson 1986).Rarely, though, do this many ants leave the
nest during a disturbance.

This observation may imply that there is a certain caste of fire ants that are
released, or this may just be the fire ants closest to the surface. Each worker ant
vary in size from 1/8 of an inch to almost 1/4 of an inch, depending on level of
nutrition obtained (Hedges 1998). This size difference may lead to a certain role for
which each ant has a role in nest disturbance. The nest size also may have a role to
play in the released ants during a disturbance. The average fire ant rarely exceeds
18 inches. This length is only on the outside opening of the hill. The length of the
hill can go down several feet, meaning only a small percentage is closed to the top.
This is the reason for only a few ants coming out compared to the thousands within
the nest. In the research, we can compare the outside of the nest with the number of
ants. Another factor needed to be considered is the number of queens within the
nest. A nest with a single queen is monogyne nest; with a multiple queened nest is a

polygyne. In the southern states, such a Louisiana, Texas, and Georgia, the more
common nesting style is the multiple queened nests(Vinson and Sorenson 1986).The
effect of this multi-queened nest is a change in nest structure. There is a central
nest, where a majority of the brood lives, and minor nest around the central, where
lesser queens live. With a disturbance in one nest, there may be a response to the

Materials and Methods

The method the group used was quite simple. The group found several nest
and measured them using a ruler. After the measurements, each group member
disturbed each nest. The group did not destroy the chosen nest. There were simple
holes placed within each nest, not completely destroying the nest, but enough
damage to create a response from the brood. Each group member watched the
results of the disturbance. The experiments were assessed at roughly midday, with
the weather being relatively warm, but slightly humid. The tools used were
prodding the nest were sticks or other cylindrical that did not leave a massive hole
with the nest. Each nest was less than 18 inches, the largest they can be. Each nest
after being disturbed easily built back their nest in the resulting day that followed
the disturbance.


The results from each nest followed a similar pattern. When the nests were
prodded with the stick, there was an extremely fast reaction time from the prodding
of the nest to the nest being released. The fire ants reaction to the prodding was
highly aggressive, with the ants coming out in large numbers with each nest, there
was a size difference in the nest, but also in the number of ants released:


Nest size

# of ants

Nest #1

4 by 15 in.


Nest #2

6 by 16 in.



5 by 12 in


The ants pattern response for being disturbed was not through the disturbed
hole only. The fire ants came out through pockets all around the nest, which may
allow more ants to be released, then having to file through a single hole in the nest.
This release of ants could also lead to very quick recovery of the nest after a

disturbance. The nest took only a few days to recover from the disturbance, most
likely due to the high release of fire ant workers.


In the experiment, the fire ants were very aggressive, which led to very good
results. They responded well to the prodding of their nest, which made them come
out ready to attack. The numbers of ants were somewhat substantial to the size of
the nest. When the ants came out, they were able to cover the top of nest. While
some nest left the main nest to attack what caused the disturbance, some fire ants
remained around the main part of the disturbance hole. This may lead to a work
structure or caste system within the nest. While some fire ants may go find the
disturbance, others remain to rebuild at the point of disturbance.

Every nest has its own size and numbers. This may come from the location of
the nest. If there are large amounts of nutrients, such as in a crop field, then the
nest will be large ant highly numerous. If the nest is in an urban area, such as an
average backyard, then the nest may not be as large. This is a balance in the fire
ant populations to keep the nest healthy, if there are not enough nutrients to

sustain a large population, the queen will produce only the need amount of worker
to run the nest properly.

This number of fire ants released can also be indicated by this number. When
the nests were disturbed, the smallest nest released the least amount of ants, with
then a increase of nest size resulting in an increase of ant numbers. The nests were
experimented on in urban settings, which may result in the number of ants

In this experiment, the group discovered much about the populations

of the fire ants in the area. While they were numerous, the nests that we
experimented on did not seem to be a nuisance to the area. This may be due to the
small nest size, or the care of the yard. These fire ants were not very destructive, as
seen by the area around the nests.

Work Cited

Hedges SA. 1997. Handbook of Pest Control, 8th Ed. (Moreland D, editor) pp. 531-535. Mallis Handbook and
Technical Training Company.

Vinson SB, Sorenson, AA. 1986. Imported Fire Ants: Life History and Impact. The Texas Department of
Agriculture. P. O. Box 12847, Austin, Texas 78711.

Hedges SA. 1997. Handbook of Pest Control, 8th Ed. (Moreland D, editor) pp. 531-535. Mallis Handbook and
Technical Training Company.