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Fire ants control tick populations.

 
Amedean Messan
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Location: Melbourne FL, USA - Pine and Palmetto Flatland, Sandy and Acidic
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I had some recent curiosity regarding natural parasite control that has led me to challenge some attitudes against fire ants. I can sympathize with anyone who views them as a pest because I have been stung thousands of times by them during my childhood. Despite their nature they are not disease vectors (ants regularly groom and secrete powerful anti-microbial chemicals) and though their sting is uncomfortable it is not excruciating (unless in large numbers). After my research and experiences I have allowed myself to summarized that fire ants are a necessary evil. It was a trade study and there is a quid-pro-quo to be said. Frankly, they devour ticks and other disease vector insects/parasites! I have found some rare video evidence to demonstrate thanks to an amatuer entomologist of sorts below.



Just from my experiences, I grew up in central Florida populated with fire ants. One thing I did not grow up with was a tick problem. I will not give credit to the fire ants as a sole inhibitor of ticks but after my personal experiences, reviewing materials and peer reviewed research papers I plan to include fire ants as a welcome member of my food web design. There has been numerous scholarly articles to confirm the fire ants predatory effectiveness against ticks. The oldest I found was from 1972 by a team of entomologists which showed direct association of tick vs fire ant populations.

Predation on the Lone Star Tick by the Imported Fire Ant - 1972 wrote:
ABSTRACT:

In tests conducted at Baton Rouge and Pine Grove, Louisiana, various stages of the lone star tick, Amblyomma americanum (L.), were released in areas infested with the imported fire ant, Solenopsis saevissima richteri Forel, and in areas where mirex bait was applied to suppress ant populations. A significant (P<0.01) greater survival of tick eggs and engorged tick larvae occurred in the mirex-treatcd area after 24, 48, and 72 hours of exposure to fire ant predation. About 75% of the ticks released in the mirex-treated plot in August and September 1970 as nymphs were recovered as adults in March 1971. No ticks were recovered in the ant-infested plot.

Engorged female ticks confined in hardware-cloth cages had a much higher survival rate in the mirex-treated plots.



This is a concise evidence of the fire ant predation effectiveness for ticks in the natural environment. Mirex is a chemical insecticide used effectively against fire ants but it is no longer used due to numerous and justified concerns relating to its damage caused on the natural environment. Essentially the areas treated with Mirex were safe havens for ticks. This is because the chemical killed its dominant natural predator, the fire ant.

Predation of the cattle tick in three Australian pastures - 2000 wrote:
ABSTRACT:

Predation of engorged females of the cattle tick Boophilus microplus (Canestrini) in pasture was recorded in central and southern Queensland for different periods during 1969-1973 and again in central Queensland in 1984. Patterns of damage and removal of ticks were consistent with direct observations that indicated that ants and the house mouse (Mus musculus L.) were the only significant predators, so these species were assumed to account for all the observed predation. At Amberley, southern Queensland, ticks sealed in nylon gauze cylinders to protect them from ants suffered less predation than ticks in unsealed cylinders that suffered predation by ants as well as mice. Predation rates were higher in long grass than in medium or short grass, probably because the long grass provided greater protection for predators. Predation rates at Jimboomba in southern Queensland were similar at a hill-top site and on a flat adjacent to a dam with higher soil moisture and denser cover, but there were major differences between years. In central Queensland, ants were consistent predators while the house mouse was responsible for high levels of predation when in plague numbers for a period of time during the study. Losses of ticks attributed to mice were related to coarse estimates of mouse abundance. In 1984, most affected ticks were attacked within 48 h of placement in the pasture. In central Queensland, mouse predation was higher in winter, while ant predation was more frequent in summer. A simulation model of tick populations indicated that a less than proportional reduction can be expected in numbers of parasitic ticks with increases in the predation rate. Those effects will be more evident in less favourable habitats for the ticks.



This does not provide as clear evidence for fire ants as the 1972 study but its does confirm a casual effect of predatory ants on tick populations. I would not have shared this except it mentions an observation of the lower survivability rates in long grass which I found interesting and contrary to my initial assumptions.


There are numerous other studies confirming the effectiveness of predatory ants in general controlling tick populations but I felt much of the information was redundant to further articulate my premises. I have not found articles that contradict these studies. So I leave it that it is well accepted among entomologists that there is an inverse relationship between fire ants (including other predatory ants) and ticks as the picture below shows.



Much of my disappointment is that this information is not as clearly accessible in search results on the popular search engines. This is mostly my motivation to write this thread. If I were to more accurately name the subject name i would have called it "predatory ants" versus "fire ants" but my experiences are limited to the later and unfortunately most resources describing them are intent on completely eradicating them. Unlike other ant species like the sugar ant, I never had much of a problem with regards to infestations in my home. They are fantastic hunters in the wild with practical purpose far beyond tick control.
 
Dale Hodgins
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R Scott
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Dale Hodgins wrote:If chickens, ducks and Guinea fowl were present, do you think that there would be many ticks for the ants to hunt ?


Enough, yes. Birds do not get all the seed ticks.
 
Amedean Messan
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Location: Melbourne FL, USA - Pine and Palmetto Flatland, Sandy and Acidic
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Dale Hodgins wrote:If chickens, ducks and Guinea fowl were present, do you think that there would be many ticks for the ants to hunt ?


Cant think of any insect from personal experience which hunts insects as viciously as fire ants. I personally do not think guinea fowl are as effective in eating ticks as fire ants due to their numbers, size and viciousness. Fire ants are pretty effective within the vicinity of their colony. I wish I had some numbers to visualize their effective hunting range centered around the colony but I do not.
 
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