May 12, 2009
Tiny flies aimed at fire ants in Texas
Four species of tiny flies that lay eggs in fire ants have been imported into Texas in an effort to reduce the numbers of the stinging invaders.
The phorid flies effectively turn fire ants into zombies, the Fort Worth (Texas) Star-Telegram reported Tuesday. The egg that hatches in a fire ant produces a maggot that eats the ant's brain, researchers at Texas A&M and the University of Texas say.
It's a tool -- they're not going to completely wipe out the fire ant, but it's a way to control their population, said Scott Ludwig, with Texas A&M's AgriLife Extension Service.
Rob Plowes of the University of Texas said as the maggot eats a fire ant's brain the ant begins to rove around mindlessly. After about two weeks, the ant's head falls off, allowing the fly to emerge, seeking another fire ant to begin the cycle again.
Fire ants arrived in the United States in 1918 by a freighter that docked in Alabama. The ants, which inflict painful bites, have spread over the south and southwest.