The Red Imported Fire Ant (Solenopsis invicta, Buren) is a native of tropical and subtropical South America that has achieved international notoriety by becoming an enormously successful invasive ant throughout much of the southern United States. S. invicta is now spreading rapidly in parts of the Caribbean, and new infestations have been detected and exterminated in Arizona, California, Australia, New Zealand, and southern China. The probability of new invasions is therefore quite high and S. invicta must be considered a potential threat worldwide in all areas where climates are suitable.
Invasive populations of Solenopsis invicta are by no means easy to ignore. They have been linked to a multitude of destructive effects, including stinging humans, agricultural and horticultural damages, and substantial negative impacts on native faunas and floras. This has resulted in social and political pressure on governments to "solve" the fire ant problem. Government involvement in fire ant research developed first in the United States, which has an 80 year history of Imported Fire Ant infestation, but other governments have more recently begun research and control efforts of their own.
In the US, federal and state governments have responded primarily by funding research and by developing detection and infestation prevention programs. There have also been expensive and ecologically disasterous attempts to exterminate entire Imported Fire Ant populations. On the brighter side, over the course of fifty years, federal and state funding agencies have underwritten a plethora of research programs that have examined in detail the behavior, ecology, life-history, genetics, and potential controls for Solenopsis invicta. As a result, S. invicta has become in some sense the "Drosophila melanogaster" of the ant world. We probably know more about its biology than is known for any other species of ant. Despite this, our ability to control large-scale infestations remains limited.
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