Relative roles of blow flies (Diptera: Calliphoridae) and invasive fire ants (Hymenoptera: Formicidae: Solenopsis spp.) in carrion decomposition.
Fire ants (Solenopsis spp.) have increasingly been reported from carrion in the southeastern United States and are now a part of the normal succession community. There have been previous observations of these ants altering carrion and preying on other carrion-attendant fauna; however, the overall effects of these activities on carrion decomposition rates, community composition, and blow fly larval development are poorly understood. Alteration of these ecological processes by fire ants could affect the forensic interpretation of entomological data. We conducted a study in Mississippi and Florida whereby portions of the succession fauna were excluded from access to pig carrion to study the relative effects of fire ants and blow flies on carrion decomposition and succession: a control with all fauna having access, a second treatment where fire ants and other geophilic taxa were excluded, and a third treatment in which blow flies and other large organisms were excluded. Fire ants inflicted lesions in the carrion, buried portions that touched the ground, and preyed on some members of the succession fauna. Their exclusion did not affect carrion decomposition rates that were measured but slightly affected the overall carrion community, and strongly affected the oviposition and development of blow flies. Despite the presence of fire ants early in the control, blow flies were eventually able to overcome predation of eggs and larvae, continue colonization, and complete development; however, the delay in the colonization of blow flies on carrion could affect the determination of postmortem intervals when development rates of blow flies are considered in the calculation.