Virus Infection Makes Ants Switch From Savory To Sweet Food

An international team of researchers has found that fire ants infected by a virus have altered food preferences and may forage less, with implications for pest control measures.

AsianScientist (Sep. 27, 2018) – In a study published in Scientific Reports, a team of scientists in Japan and the US has found that a virus could be used to control the spread of an invasive ant species.

Native to South America, red fire ants (Solenopsis invicta), were introduced accidentally into the US in the early 20th century. These ants subsequently invaded other countries, including Australia, New Zealand, Taiwan, China and more recently, Japan and South Korea.

Fire ants are known to love oily food, hence potato chips or hot dog slices are often used in surveys of fire ant colonization in the US, Australia and Taiwan. In the present study, however, researchers led by Associate Professor Scotty Yang Chin-Cheng of Kyoto University, Japan, discovered that ants infected with a particular virus—Solenopsis invicta virus 1 (SINV-1)—forage much less and prefer carbohydrates such as diluted honey over oily and protein-rich foods like tuna and peanut butter.

“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,” said Yang.

“These findings also suggest that viral prevalence in the field may potentially influence the efficacy of conventional chemical control by low-toxic baits,” added co-author Professor DeWayne Shoemaker at the University of Tennessee, US.

Use of low-toxicity baits for ant control requires that the ants consume a sufficiently lethal quantity. Shoemaker explained that because SINV-1 appears to disrupt fire ant foraging and food preferences, infected ants may not ingest a sufficient dose of bait for successful control.

“We are now considering how to integrate the virus into existing chemical control schemes,” said Yang.

The article can be found at: Hsu et al. (2018) Viral Infections in Fire Ants Lead to Reduced Foraging Activity and Dietary Changes.


Source: Kyoto University.
Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of AsianScientist or its staff.

Asian Scientist Magazine is an award-winning science and technology magazine that highlights R&D news stories from Asia to a global audience. The magazine is published by Singapore-headquartered Wildtype Media Group.

Related Stories from Asian Scientist