Food-burying behavior in red imported fire ants (Hymenoptera: Formicidae).
The food-burying behavior has been reported in many mammals and birds, but was rarely observed in invertebrates. The red imported fire ants, Solenopsis invicta Buren, is an invasive pest in many areas of the world that usually performing food-burying during the foraging processes. However, the impacted factors and measureable patterns of this behavior is largely unknown. In the present study, food-burying vs food-transport behaviors of Solenopsis invicta were observed under laboratory and field conditions. When starved (no food was provided for 37 days) in the laboratory, food (sausage) was consumed by large numbers of ants, and few burying behaviors were observed. However, when food was provided until satiation of the colonies, food-transport was suppressed and significantly more soil particles were relocated on the food and graph paper square (where the food was placed) when compared with these colonies exposed to starved conditions. Videotapes showed that soil particles (1.47±0.09 mm2) were preferentially placed adjacent to (in contact with) the food items at the beginning; and after the edges were covered, ants transported significantly smaller soil particles (1.13±0.06 mm2) to cover the food. Meanwhile, larger particles (1.96±0.08 mm2) were pulled/dragged around (but not in contact with) the food. Interestingly, only a small number of ants, mainly the small workers, were involved in food-burying, and the ants tended to repeatedly transport soil particles. A total of 12 patterns of particle transport were identified, and soil particles were most frequently picked from the foraging arena and subsequently placed adjacent to the food. In the field, almost all released food was actively transported by Solenopsis invicta workers, and no burying behavior was observed. Our results show that the food-burying behavior of Solenopsis invicta may be associated with the suppressed foraging activity, and the burying task may be carried out by certain groups of workers.