Fire ants are invasive pests and can overwhelm native ant species, disrupting local ecosystems, insect food chains and soil dynamics. Photo by Kyoto University/Yang
Sept. 11 (UPI) -- New research has revealed a virus that could help fire ant mitigation strategies.
According to a new survey of fire ant distribution and behavior in Japan, Solenopsis invicta virus 1 infections caused fire ants to forage less often.
SINV-1 also altered the food preferences of infected fire ants. Typically, fire ants are attracted to oily foods like hot dogs and potato chips. The viral infection triggered a preference for carbohydrate-rich foods like honey.
"This finding might lead to the impression that the pathogen can help us combat invasive ants, but it hinges on our understanding of the role of that virus in the ant's biology," Chin-Cheng Scotty Yang, a researcher at Kyoto University in Japan, said in a news release.
Low-toxicity baits are the most common weapon deployed against fire ant infestations. To be effective, ants must consume a lethal dose. Infected ants may not forage enough to eat enough of the toxic bait.
"Viral prevalence in the field may potentially influence the efficacy of conventional chemical control by low-toxic baits," said DeWayne Shoemaker, researcher at the University of Tennessee.
However, the findings -- detailed this week in the journal Scientific Reports -- suggest the virus, if properly paired with the right toxic bait, could improve fire ant mitigation methods.
"We are now considering how to integrate the virus into existing chemical control schemes," said Yang.
The new research also found fire ants are most prevalent near container yards and warehouses in Japan and Korea.