Effect of the red imported fire ant on cotton aphid population density and predation of bollworm and beet armyworm eggs.
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The effects of the red imported fire ant, Solenopsis invicta Buren (Hymenoptera: Formicidae), on cotton aphid, Aphis gossypii Glover, populations and its predation of bollworm, Helicoverpa zea (Boddie), and beet armyworm, Spodoptera exigua (Hbner), (both Lepidoptera: Noctuidae) eggs were evaluated in cotton under field conditions during 2001 and 2002 in central and northern Texas. In central Texas, cotton aphid populations were approximately 5.5 times greater and predation of sentinel bollworm eggs 2 times greater in the presence of S. invicta versus in its absence, although aphid populations did not reach economic levels. Most predation of beet armyworm egg masses, measured via direct nocturnal observations, was due to S. invicta (68%) and cotton fleahopper, Pseudatomoscelis seriatus (Reuter) (21%), where S. invicta was present, and by the mite Abrolophus sp. (52%), spiders (13%), and minute pirate bug (Orius sp.) (13%) where S. invicta was absent. Predation of sentinel bollworm eggs and beet armyworm egg masses was approximately 1.5 and 4.1 times greater, respectively, in the presence of S. invicta versus in their absence. In the presence of S. invicta, the relative frequencies of minute pirate bug and cotton fleahopper were higher, and of S. invicta and native ants lower in beat bucket samples compared with their relative frequencies in nocturnal observations of predation upon beet armyworm egg masses. In the absence of S. invicta seven of eight predators sampled were similarly represented in beat bucket samples and nocturnal observations of beet armyworm egg mass predation, whereas minute pirate bug occurred at a higher frequency in beat bucket samples relative to nocturnal observations. These observations suggested that the relative frequencies of minute pirate bug, cotton fleahopper, S. invicta and native ants in beat bucket samples do not closely reflect the frequency with which these predators prey on noctuid eggs. Overall, the results of this study show that although S. invicta may promote aphid populations early in the growing season, it is an important predator of bollworm and beet armyworm eggs later in the season.