| Solenopsis invicta|
Stefan Cover (EOL) - The Red Imported Fire Ant (Solenopsis invicta) is a native of tropical and subtropical South America that has achieved international notoriety by becoming an enormously successful invasive ant throughout much of the southern United States. S. invicta is now spreading rapidly in parts of the Caribbean, and new infestations have been detected and exterminated in Arizona, California, Australia, New Zealand, and southern China. The probability of new invasions is therefore quite high and S. invicta must be considered a potential threat worldwide in all areas where climates are suitable.
Invasive populations of Solenopsis invicta are by no means easy to ignore. They have been linked to a multitude of destructive effects, including stinging humans, agricultural and horticultural damages, and substantial negative impacts on native faunas and floras. This has resulted in social and political pressure on governments to "solve" the fire ant problem. Government involvement in fire ant research developed first in the United States, which has an 80 year history of Imported Fire Ant infestation, but other governments have more recently begun research and control efforts of their own.
In the US, federal and state governments have responded primarily by funding research and by developing detection and infestation prevention programs. There have also been expensive and ecologically disasterous attempts to exterminate entire Imported Fire Ant populations. On the brighter side, over the course of fifty years, federal and state funding agencies have underwritten a plethora of research programs that have examined in detail the behavior, ecology, life-history, genetics, and potential controls for Solenopsis invicta. As a result, S. invicta has become in some sense the Drosophila melanogaster of the ant world. We probably know more about its biology than is known for any other species of ant. Despite this, our ability to control large-scale infestations remains limited.
|At a Glance||• Supercolonies • Facultatively polygynous|
Buren (1972) - Similar to Solenopsis richteri. The best and easiest method of distinguishing invicta from richteri is by the morphological characters given in the descriptions, particularly those concerning the shapes of the head, thorax, and postpetiole. Reiterated, in richteri the sides of the head are usually broadly elliptical in shape and lack the weakly cordate shape seen in invicta; the peaks of the occipital lobes nearer the midline and the occipital excision more creaselike in richteri than in invicta; scapes longer in richteri than in invicta in relation to their ability to reach toward the occipital peaks; pronotum with strong and rather angulate shoulders in richteri, this character nearly absent in invicta; a shallow but distinctly sunken area on posterior median dorsum of the pronotum of large workers in richteri, absent in large workers of invicta; the promesonotum strongly convex in profile in invicta, more weakly so in richteri; in profile the base of propodeum elongate and straight in richteri, convex and shorter in proportion to the declivity in invicta; the postpetiole wide and with straight or diverging sides posteriorly in invicta, narrower and usually with converging sides in richteri; transverse impression on posterodorsal face of postpetiole usually apparent and strong in richteri, usually weak or absent in invicta.
Solenopsis invicta is a native of South America, centered on the Pantanal region found at the headwaters of the Paraguay River. This area is comprised of seasonally flooded savannas and wetlands. Solenopsis invicta first became noticed as pest species after its introduction in Mobile, Alabama in the 1930's. This introduction was thought to have its origins from a cargo ship from somewhere in NE Argentina. It is also possible there were numerous introductions. The fire ant is now found throughout the SE United States and California. It has subsequently been introduced and spread to other parts of the world as well (as detailed below).
Distribution based on Regional Taxon Lists
Australasian Region: Australia.
Indo-Australian Region: Hawaii.
Nearctic Region: United States (type locality).
Neotropical Region: Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Aruba, Brazil (type locality), British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Greater Antilles, Mexico, Montserrat, Netherlands Antilles, Paraguay, Puerto Rico, Saint Martin (French part), Trinidad and Tobago, Turks and Caicos Islands, United States Virgin Islands.
Palaearctic Region: China.
Check distribution from AntMaps.
Distribution based on specimens
There is a webpage with a list of some recent publications about the imported fire ant.
Buren (1972) - The sting venon constituents of invicta (MacConnell et af. 1971) appear to consist largely of the following alkylated piperidines; trans-2-methyl-6-nundecylpiperidine, trans-2-methyl-6-n-tridecylpiperidine, trans-2-methyl-6-(cis-4-tridecenyl) piperidine, trans-2-methyl-6-n-pentadecylpiperidine, and trans-2- methyl-6- (cil'-6-pentadecenyl) piperidine, of which the last four predominate. These constituents are different from those of richteri, in which the first 3 listed compounds predominate, and the last two are essentially lacking. (Unpublished data of Dr. John Brand and Dr. Murray Blum, Department of Entomology, University of Georgia).
Solenopsis invicta has had their entire genome sequenced.
Palomeque et al. (2015) found class II mariner elements, a form of transposable elements, in the genome of this ant.
This species is a host for the endoparastic fungus Myrmicinosporidium durum (Espadaler & Santamaria, 2012).
Deyrup, Davis & Cover (2000): Solenopsis invicta, although a major ecological and economic problem through out Florida, does not seem to live up to its potential as a pest, especially compared to the situation in Texas. Heavy outbreaks of S. invicta in Florida seem to require constant maintenance by humans in the form of perennial habitat disturbance and, on upland sites, frequent irrigation. The sand soils characteristic of most of Florida maybe suboptimal for S. invicta because sand drains quickly and is also permeable to a great variety of burrowing animals, some of which might be enemies of ants. Tschinkel has suggested (1988) that subterranean Solenopsis of the subgenus Diplorhoptrum might reduce populations of S. invicta in sandy uplands. Since S. invicta originates in habitats where the soil is periodically saturated, forcing the fire ants themselves to build elevated nests, it seems logical that this ant would better adapted to defend itself against enemies from above rather than enemies from below.
The following information is derived from Barry Bolton's New General Catalogue, a catalogue of the world's ants.
- wagneri. Solenopsis saevissima var. wagneri Santschi, 1916e: 380 (w.) ARGENTINA. Junior synonym of saevissima: Wilson, 1952b: 55. Revived from synonymy, raised to species and senior synonym of invicta: Bolton, 1995b: 391. [Trager, 1991: 173 wrongly gave wagneri as an unavailable name, incorrectly citing its original notation as S. saevissima subsp. electra var. wagneri, and referring its material to invicta. But wagneri is available, with the original notation cited above, and has priority over invicta.] S. invicta conserved over wagneri because of usage, in accord with ICZN (1999): Shattuck, Porter & Wojcik, 1999: 27.
- invicta. Solenopsis invicta Buren, 1972: 9, fig. 2 (w.q.m.) BRAZIL. Wheeler, G.C. & Wheeler, J. 1977: 588 (l.). Junior synonym of wagneri: Bolton, 1995b: 388. [Trager, 1991: 173 incorrectly gave wagneri as an unavailable name; the name is available and has priority over invicta, see note under wagneri.] S. invicta conserved over wagneri because of usage, in accord with ICZN (1999): Shattuck, Porter & Wojcik, 1999: 27. See also: Rhoades, 1977: 1; Smith, D.R. 1979: 1386.
Unless otherwise noted the text for the remainder of this section is reported from the publication that includes the original description.
Buren (1972) - Head length .77 to 1.41 mm, about 1.35 to 1.40 in majors; width .65 to 1.43 mm, about 1.39 to 1.42 mm in majors. Scape length .96 to 1.02 mm. in majors. Thoracic length 1.70 to 1.73 mm. in majors.
Head wider behind eyes, with rounded occipital lobes, lobe peaks further from the midline than in Solenopsis richteri, but occipital excision not as creaselike. Scapes in majors failing to reach occipital peaks in full face view by 1 or 2 scape diameters, a more noticeable space than in richteri. Scapes meeting occipital border in medium sized workers, slightly exceeding rear border in small workers. Head with more elliptical sides in medium or small medium workers. Only the small workers have the head slightly wider in front than behind.
Thorax of majors; pronotum without angular shoulders or a sunken posteromedian area. In profile the promesonotum evenly and strongly convex, and the base of the propodeum also usually convex and rounded rather evenly into the declivity; base and declivity in profile about equal in length in very large workers. Promesonotal suture moderately strong to rather weak centrally in large workers.
Petiole with thick, blunt scale; seen from behind the scale is usually not as evenly rounded above as in richteri and may be subtruncate, but this character variable. Postpetiole large and broad, in very large workers much broader than long; seen posterodorsally, sides parallel or nearly so, in very large workers often broader behind than in front; transverse impression on rear dorsal surface present or very feeble, usually noticeably weaker than in richteri.
Sculpture similar to richteri; punctures from which the pilosity arises often shallowly elongate on dorsal and ventral sides of head; sculptured areas on cheeks in frorit of eyes less striate and more irregularly rugose than in richteri. Striae on sides of thorax less deeply etched and with fewer intercalated punctures than in richteri. Mesopleura with anteroventral portion of striate area usually obliterated and nearly smooth and shining in major workers. Petiole punctate on the sides. Postpetiole from above with strong shagreen anteriorly, medially and posteriorly with distinct transverse punctostriae, sides covered with fine, deep punctures, these appearing to be individually smaller but deeper than those in richteri, giving a more opaque appearance to this surface; some punctostriae may be present toward the rear.
Pilosity very similar to that of richteri; erect hairs numerous and of various lengths; some very long hairs always present on each side of pronotum and mesonotum and in longitudinal rows on head; appressed pubescent hairs on anterior face of the petiolar scale moderately numerous, apparently always sparse in richteri.
Gastric spot present only in some of the large workers, never as brightly colored as in richteri, usually occupying a smaller area on first gastric tergite, and with rather indistinct posterior border. Remainder of gaster very dark brown, in some large workers nearly black. Thorax concolorously light reddish brown to darker brown; legs, including coxae, usually of a lighter shade. Head with rather constant color pattern in large workers; occiput and vertex brownish as in the thorax, but the larger portion of head, including front, genae, and central body of the clypeus, yellowish or light yellowish brown; venter of head also usually light yellowish brown. Mandibles and anterior border portions of the genae dark brown or of about the same shade as the occiput; a small dark brown arrowshaped or “rocket”-shaped mark centrally on front. Scapes and funiculi varying from matching the light colored area of the head to the same shade as occiput. In minors and medium sized workers, light colored area of the head restricted to frontal area, with dark arrow or rocket-shaped mark nearly always present. An occasional nest series with colors very much darker than described, large workers without trace of gastric spot and nearly concolorously very dark brown. Even in these specimens, the head similar to or approaching color patterns described above.
Buren (1972) - Head length 1.27 to 1.29 mm; width 1.32 to 1.33 mm; scapes .95 to .98mm. and thorax 2.60 to 2.63 mm. in length.
Head nearly indistinguishable in shape from richteri, except that the occipital excision is not as crease-like. The scapes appear slightly shorter in general than in richteri. Petiolar scale much as in richteri, very convex above, seen from behind. Postpetiole with rather straight sides, seen from above, the sides never concave, unlike richteri. Sculpture of thorax not appreciably different from richteri, clear space between metapleural striate area and propodeal spiracles absent or reduced to a narrow crease. Sides of petiole punctate. Sides of postpetiole opaque with fine punctures, without much of the irregular roughening seen in richteri; anterior portion of dorsum strongly shagreend; middle and rear portion with distinct, tranverse puncto-striae. Erect hairs present on all surfaces. Anterior faces of petiole and pqstpetiole with dense matts of appressed pubescence, similar pubescent matts usually present on rear surface of propodeum.
Colors similar to worker. Gaster very dark brown. Thorax, legs, and scapes light brown, often with three longitudinal very dark streaks on mesoscutum. Head yellowish or yellowish brown centrally, occiput and mandibles approximately matching thorax. Wing veins very pale brown.
Buren (1972) - Not appreciably different from male of richteri; upper border of petiolar scale appearing more strongly concave, seen from behind, but there probably is overlap in this character. As in both species, the spiracles of the petiole and post petiole are strongly projecting.
Concolorous black expect for the whitish antennae. Wing veins colorless to very pale brown.
- Holotype, worker, Cuiaba, Mato Grosso, Brazil, National Museum of Natural History.
- Paratype, 6 workers, 42km SE Cuiaba and Chapada (both Mato Grosso), Brazil, Museum of Comparative Zoology.
- Paratype, 6 workers, Daphne and near Mobile, Alabama, United States, Museum of Comparative Zoology.
- Paratype, workers, Cuiaba, Mato Grosso, Brazil, National Museum of Natural History.
- Paratype, workers, 42km SE Cuiaba and Chapada (both Mato Grosso), Brazil, Univ. of Florida.
- Paratype, workers, Daphne and near Mobile, Alabama, USA, United States, Univ. of Florida.
- Paratype, workers, 42km SE Cuiaba and Chapada (both Mato Grosso), Brazil, Univ. of Georgia.
- Paratype, workers, Daphne and near Mobile, Alabama, USA, United States, Univ. of Georgia.
The most well studied ant in the world, at least in terms of publications that focus on or include this ant in their studies. Here is a page that contains some records of publications that include Solenopsis invicta.
- Buren, W. F. 1972. Revisionary studies on the taxonomy of the imported fire ants. J. Ga. Entomol. Soc. 7: 1-26 (page 9, worker, queen, male described)
- Deyrup, M., Davis, L. & Cover, S. 2000. Exotic ants in Florida. Transactions of the American Entomological Society 126, 293-325.
- Espadaler, X., Santamaria, S. 2012. Ecto- and Endoparasitic Fungi on Ants from the Holarctic Region. Psyche Article ID 168478, 10 pages (doi:10.1155/2012/168478).
- Lei, W., Yongyue, L.U., Yijuan, X.U. & Ling, Z. 2013. The current status of research on Solenopsis invicta Buren (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) in Mainland China. Asian Myrmecology 5, 125–137.
- Palomeque, T., O. Sanllorente, X. Maside, J. Vela, P. Mora, M. I. Torres, G. Periquet, and P. Lorite. 2015. Evolutionary history of the Azteca-like mariner transposons and their host ants. Science of Nature. 102. doi:10.1007/s00114-015-1294-3
- Pitts, J.P., Camacho, G.P., Gotzek, D., McHugh, J.V., Ross, K.G. 2018. Revision of the fire ants of the Solenopisis saevissima species group (Hymenoptera: Formicidae). Proceedings of the Entomological Society of Washington, 120: 308–411.
- Shattuck, S. O.; Porter, S. D.; Wojcik, D. P. 2004. Case 3069. Solenopsis invicta Buren, 1972 (Insecta, Hymenoptera): proposed conservation of the specific name. Bull. Zool. Nomencl. 56: 27-30 (conservation of name)
- Smith, D. R. 1979. Superfamily Formicoidea. Pp. 1323-1467 in: Krombein, K. V., Hurd, P. D., Smith, D. R., Burks, B. D. (eds.) Catalog of Hymenoptera in America north of Mexico. Volume 2. Apocrita (Aculeata). Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Pr (page 1386, see also)
- Trager, J. C. 1991. A revision of the fire ants, Solenopsis geminata group (Hymenoptera: Formicidae: Myrmicinae). J. N. Y. Entomol. Soc. 99: 141-198 (page 173, wagneri unavailable name)
- Tschinkel, W.R. 2015. The architecture of subterranean ant nests: beauty and mystery underfoot. Journal of Bioeconomics 17:271–291 (DOI 10.1007/s10818-015-9203-6).
- Ward, D. 2009. The potential distribution of the red imported fire ant, Solenopsis invicta Buren (Hymenoptera: Formicidae), in New Zealand. New Zealand Entomologist 32: 67-75.
- Wetterer, J. K. 2013. Exotic spread of Solenopsis invicta Buren (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) beyond North America. Sociobiology 60:50-55. PDF
- Wheeler, G. C.; Wheeler, J. 1977a. Supplementary studies on ant larvae: Myrmicinae. Trans. Am. Entomol. Soc. 103: 581-602 (page 588, larva described)
- Wurm, Y. et al. 2011. The genome of the fire ant Solenopsis invicta. PNAS. 108(14):5679-5684. doi:10.1073/pnas.1009690108
- Yongsheng Gao, Fabian Bracco, Sanqiang Zhao, Terrence Michael Caelli (2012): An Automatic On-Site Fire Ant Screening System. IEEE Computer Society. http://dx.doi.org/10.1109/DICTA.2012.6411725.