Bacterial Isolates Derived from Nest Soil Affect the Attraction and Digging Behavior of Workers of the Red Imported Fire Ant, Solenopsis invicta Buren. Academic Article uri icon


  • Populations of monogyne and polygyne red imported fire ants (RIFA), Solenopsis invicta Buren, are distributed throughout the southern United States. This ant species is hazardous to farm animals and workers, damages infrastructure, and depletes native arthropod populations. Colony expansion is affected by several biotic factors, but the effects of soil microbes on ant behavior related to soil excavation within nest sites have not been investigated. Consequently, we cultured bacteria from RIFA nest soils. The effects of individual bacterial isolates and bacterial cell densities on the choice of digging site as well as digging activity of monogyne and polygyne RIFA worker ants were evaluated in two-choice bioassays. Based on phylogenetic analysis, 17 isolates were selected and tested initially at 5 108 cells/mL and 20 workers per assay. Firmicutes (Bacillus, Paenibacillus, Brevibacillus) repelled the ants, but Arthrobacter woluwensis strongly attracted ants. Subsequently, the six isolates having the greatest positive or negative effects on ant behavior were evaluated at a lower bacterial cell and worker ant densities. Ant responses to these bacteria generally decreased as cell densities declined to 5 106 cells/mL. Observations of ant behavior during a three-hour, two-choice bioassay revealed that ants generally visited both control and bacteria-treated sand prior to making a digging site choice. Our research results indicate that soil bacteria may mediate ant nest expansion or relocation and foraging tunnel construction. Identification of bacterial metabolites that affect RIFA digging behavior merits additional research because these compounds may provide a basis for novel management strategies that repel RIFA away from sensitive infrastructure or attract fire ants to insecticidal baits.

published proceedings

  • Insects

author list (cited authors)

  • Travanty, N. V., Vargo, E. L., Schal, C., Apperson, C. S., & Ponnusamy, L.

complete list of authors

  • Travanty, Nicholas V||Vargo, Edward L||Schal, Coby||Apperson, Charles S||Ponnusamy, Loganathan

publication date

  • January 1, 2022 11:11 AM