Solenopsis geminata (tropical fire ant)
- Summary of Invasiveness
- Taxonomic Tree
- Notes on Taxonomy and Nomenclature
- Distribution Table
- History of Introduction and Spread
- Risk of Introduction
- Hosts/Species Affected
- Host Plants and Other Plants Affected
- Growth Stages
- List of Symptoms/Signs
- Biology and Ecology
- Natural enemies
- Means of Movement and Dispersal
- Pathway Vectors
- Plant Trade
- Wood Packaging
- Impact Summary
- Environmental Impact
- Impact: Biodiversity
- Threatened Species
- Social Impact
- Risk and Impact Factors
- Detection and Inspection
- Similarities to Other Species/Conditions
- Prevention and Control
- Links to Websites
- Distribution Maps
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PicturesTop of page
IdentityTop of page
Preferred Scientific Name
- Solenopsis geminata (Fabricius)
Preferred Common Name
- tropical fire ant
Other Scientific Names
- Atta geminata
- Solenopsis geminata rufa Jerd.
International Common Names
- English: brown ant; fire ant; fire ant, tropical; red ant; stinging ant
- Spanish: hormiga brava; hormiga brava roja; hormiga caribe
- French: fourmie
Local Common Names
- Netherlands: Tabaks-mier
- SOLEGE (Solenopsis geminata)
- SOLEGR (Solenopsis geminata rufa)
Summary of InvasivenessTop of page
Taxonomic TreeTop of page
- Domain: Eukaryota
- Kingdom: Metazoa
- Phylum: Arthropoda
- Subphylum: Uniramia
- Class: Insecta
- Order: Hymenoptera
- Family: Formicidae
- Genus: Solenopsis
- Species: Solenopsis geminata
Notes on Taxonomy and NomenclatureTop of page
DescriptionTop of page
DistributionTop of page
Distribution TableTop of page
The distribution in this summary table is based on all the information available. When several references are cited, they may give conflicting information on the status. Further details may be available for individual references in the Distribution Table Details section which can be selected by going to Generate Report.Last updated: 15 Dec 2020
|Continent/Country/Region||Distribution||Last Reported||Origin||First Reported||Invasive||Reference||Notes|
|-Lesser Sunda Islands||Present|
|United Arab Emirates||Present||Introduced||Invasive|
|Antigua and Barbuda||Present||Introduced|
|British Virgin Islands||Present||Introduced|
|-Manitoba||Absent, Intercepted only|
|Saint Kitts and Nevis||Present||Native|
|Saint Vincent and the Grenadines||Present||Native|
|Trinidad and Tobago||Present||Native|
|Turks and Caicos Islands||Present||Introduced|
|U.S. Virgin Islands||Present||Introduced|
|Northern Mariana Islands||Present||Introduced|
|Papua New Guinea||Present||Introduced|
|Samoa||Present||Original citation: Wetterer Vargo (2003)|
|Tonga||Present||Introduced||Reported invasive in 1967|
History of Introduction and SpreadTop of page
In parts of southern USA, the historical distribution of S. geminata has been reduced in areas invaded by high population levels of imported fire ants (Solenopsis invicta and Solenopsis richteri) (Vinson et al., 2003). Thus, historical records may no longer express the current distribution.
Risk of IntroductionTop of page
HabitatTop of page
Hosts/Species AffectedTop of page
Seed loss to crops such as cabbage, corn, sorghum and tomato can be significant. However, this species also girdles plants, imbibes sap, and bites branches, shoots, buds, flowers and fruits (Hill, 1975). The ants in nests that are built at the base of citrus tree trunks gnaw through the bark (Essig, 1926; Wolcott, 1933). Indirectly, S. geminata can negatively affect plant health by tending sucking insects (Homoptera), or in one case, prevent pollination (Carroll and Risch, 1983). However, because these ants sting, they can affect field workers that are sensitive to arthropod venom, and can affect equipment such as drip irrigation systems (Ota and Chang, 1981) and electrical equipment (Prins, 1985). In addition, they occur in urban areas (such as in turf and occasionally enter buildings), wildlife areas, forests and other sites suitable for the species.
Host Plants and Other Plants AffectedTop of page
Growth StagesTop of page
List of Symptoms/SignsTop of page
|Fruit / external feeding|
|Growing point / external feeding|
|Seeds / external feeding|
|Stems / external feeding|
|Stems / gummosis or resinosis|
|Stems / internal feeding|
|Vegetative organs / external feeding|
|Vegetative organs / internal feeding|
|Whole plant / cut at stem base|
|Whole plant / external feeding|
|Whole plant / plant dead; dieback|
|Whole plant / wilt|
Biology and EcologyTop of page
The research of S. geminata is fairly extensive, particularly from locations where it is an introduced exotic species. In these locations, S. geminata often becomes one of the more dominant ant species, causing many problems similar to those caused by Solenopsis invicta (Porter et al., 1997).
The biology of S. geminata is similar to other closely related fire ant species. Wilson (1978) described caste behaviour. The head capsules of the major worker ants are distinctly larger and lobed relative to those of minor workers because of their specialized seed foraging and milling behaviour.
The colonies of S. geminata can either be monogyne, each containing a single queen ant, or polygyne, containing many reproductively-active queen ants (Adams et al., 1976; MacKay et al., 1990; Williams and Whelan, 1991).
Ross et al. (1987) has evaluated the genetics of S. geminata and other fire ant species. This species has been known to hybridize with other closely related fire ant species; Morrison (2000) discusses the hybrid Solenopsis geminata x Solenopsis xyloni.
Physiology and Phenology
The pheromones known for S. geminata are discussed by Blum (1982) and Jaffe et al. (1985), and considerable work has been carried out to characterize the ant's venom (e.g. Battenfield et al., 1982).
The winged reproductive male and female S. geminata leave the nests on mating or nuptial flights, late in the day or at dusk on days of or following rains during warmer periods of the year (Travis, 1941; Hung et al., 1977; Trager, 1991). Two forms of queen ants are recognized and have different mating strategies (McInnes and Tschinkel, 1995). Following mating, the female reproductive ants or queens drop their wings and dig a burrow to start a new colony. The queens begin laying eggs and can lay up to 1123 eggs per day (Travis, 1941). Development from egg to adult can take from 3 to 4 weeks and up to 2 months (Wheeler and Wheeler, 1955; Vargo, 1993). Egg hatch occurs in 14 to 17 days, larval development in 24 days to 6 weeks and the pupal stages last up to 19 days (Veeresh, 1990a). The worker ants include minor workers (2.6 mm larvae), major workers (5.2 mm larvae) and intermediate sized workers. Colony maturity occurs in 1 to 2 years (Wilson and Taylor, 1967). The colonies have been reported to contain up to 100,000 ants (Way et al., 1998), but other estimates are lower, generally ranging from 10,000 to 12,000 (Veeresh, 1990a, b).
S. geminata, like other ants, are social insects. This species generally builds nests in the soil in open, sunny areas, although they can also occur in the shade and inside structures. The nests are formed as craters or mounds in which the ants seek optimum temperatures for reproduction. At certain times of the year, the nests have multiple entrance holes (16 to 20 per nest) in mounds up to 2 ft wide and 12 inches tall (Van Pelt, 1958), although most mounds are not as tall or even crater-like. The subterranean foraging tunnels (up to 3 inches deep) extend from the nest in all directions and may be 100 ft long, with vertical tunnels extending up to 6 ft deep in the ground (Wheeler, 1910). The density of colonies in areas varies greatly and can range from 10 mounds per acre to 80 mounds per acre in native habitats (McInnes and Tschinkel, 1995), but in some areas the polygyne forms of the ant can reach up to 1000 mounds per acre (MacKay et al., 1990). In India, mound densities have been reported as 1500 mounds per acre (Veeresh, 1990a). The colonies frequently migrate to new locations (Lakshmikantha et al., 1996), migrating over 100 ft from the original nest locations.
S. geminata often colonizes disturbed habitats (Risch, 1981; Perfecto, 1991). It is capable of colonizing most types of soils and media. It occurs in shaded orchards and woods (Essig, 1926; Wilson and Brown, 1958), as well as open areas. Habitat types vary greatly (Wheeler, 1910; Travis, 1941; Creighton, 1950; Van Pelt, 1958; Whitcomb et al., 1972; Buren et al., 1974; Moody et al., 1981; Moody and Franke, 1982; Carroll and Risch, 1984; Tschinkel, 1988; Verhaagh, 1991; Muniappan and Marutani, 1992; McInnes and Tshinkel, 1995; Way et al., 1998). This species prefers low to mid-elevations below 1500 ft (Forel, 1993; Perfecto, 1994), but has been reported to occur at 3000 ft (Smith, 1936). It prefers mild winter temperatures and high humidity (Snelling, 1963). Cokendolpher and Francke (1985) described the temperature preferences of S. geminata. The influence of microhabitats on distribution is discussed by Torres (1984). Foraging occurs in the temperature range of 77 to 90°F, with extreme temperature limits that prevent foraging below 36°F and above 122°F (George and Narendran, 1987).
Although S. geminata is reported to be associated with a wide variety of crop and animal commodities in the field, the impact of the ants is often not reported to be negative, nor is injury always caused to the agricultural commodity. In many cases, the foraging ants prey on pest arthropods such as ticks, caterpillars and beetle life stages. They are associated with sucking insects such as aphids, leafhoppers and other Homoptera, which they 'tend', to feed on the sugary honeydew secretions (Tennant and Porter, 1991).
Natural enemiesTop of page
|Natural enemy||Type||Life stages||Specificity||References||Biological control in||Biological control on|
Means of Movement and DispersalTop of page
S. geminata can be moved by the human transport of colonies or mated queen ants in soil or other suitable nesting materials, or naturally by mating flights or the movement of colonies floating in floodwater (Litsinger et al., 1986), similar to the ways in which Solenopsis invicta and Solenopsis richteri have been spread to new areas. The cracks and crevices of stems and bark could harbour mated queen ants of small colonies, particularly associated with soil or potting media. The ants or 'worked' soil would be visible to the naked eye. The movement by humans has led to infestations on many remote islands such as the Galapagos Islands (Williams and Whelan, 1991) and Guam (Schreiner and Nafus, 1988).
S. geminata often colonizes disturbed habitats (Risch, 1981; Perfecto, 1991). The removal of rain forests or the cultivation of fields causes rapid colonization by this species, making it a dominant ant in many agricultural systems.
S. geminata and other ant species may also be associated with the transmission of some plant diseases through the injuries made by the ant (Suarez-Sotolongo, 1990).
Plant TradeTop of page
|Plant parts liable to carry the pest in trade/transport||Pest stages||Borne internally||Borne externally||Visibility of pest or symptoms|
|Growing medium accompanying plants||adults; eggs; larvae; pupae||Yes||Pest or symptoms usually visible to the naked eye|
|Plant parts not known to carry the pest in trade/transport|
|Fruits (inc. pods)|
|True seeds (inc. grain)|
Wood PackagingTop of page
|Wood Packaging not known to carry the pest in trade/transport|
|Loose wood packing material|
|Processed or treated wood|
|Solid wood packing material with bark|
|Solid wood packing material without bark|
Impact SummaryTop of page
|Fisheries / aquaculture||None|
ImpactTop of page
S. geminata is considered to be an economically important pest ant (Lakshmikantha et al., 2001) even in Florida, USA, this species' native habitat (Wojcik et al., 1976). Stand loss in agricultural crops can be significant where this species is abundant. Perfecto (1994) reported a loss of 90% of tomato seeds. The loss of corn and sorghum seeds and seedlings has also been reported (Carroll and Risch, 1984; Trabanino et al., 1989). However, the overall estimates of economic losses are unavailable. Economic benefits can also be provided by this species (Risch and Carroll, 1982); it has been documented to be a major predator of many other arthropod pests such as engorged ticks, Boophilus microplus (Barre et al., 1991) and fruit flies (Eskafi and Kolbe, 1990).
Environmental ImpactTop of page
Impact: BiodiversityTop of page
S. geminata has often become one of the dominant pest ant species where it has been introduced, affecting the fauna and flora (Hoffmann et al., 1999; Geetha Viswanathan and Ajay Narendra, 2000). This species affects the seed of many plant species, moving and consuming them as discussed by Horvitz (1981), Nesom (1981) and others. In native areas (New World), subsequently invaded by imported fire ant species (Solenopsis invicta and Solenopsis richteri in the south-eastern USA), S. geminata populations (and its distribution) have been reduced (Vinson et al., 2003).
Threatened SpeciesTop of page
Social ImpactTop of page
Risk and Impact FactorsTop of page
UsesTop of page
DiagnosisTop of page
Detection and InspectionTop of page
The methods used for detecting and inspecting other fire ant species, such as Solenopsis invicta, can be used for S. geminata. Both species build nests in the soil and create mounds with honey-comb-shaped galleries in which ants reside. These can be observed on the soil surface, particularly after rainy periods. Any sites where the soil appears to be 'worked' and formed into small granulate particles should be inspected for the presence of ants. This is particularly important during the inspection of articles of trade stacked on pallets or containing suitable media for ant colony nesting. However, baiting methods are more suitable for detecting ants in transported articles, or in locations or seasons when the ants do not construct visible mounds. Bait stations to monitor S. geminata, using attractive substances such as tuna fish, have been evaluated (Nestel and Dickschen, 1990; Islam et al., 2000).
Similarities to Other Species/ConditionsTop of page
Prevention and ControlTop of page
Due to the variable regulations around (de)registration of pesticides, your national list of registered pesticides or relevant authority should be consulted to determine which products are legally allowed for use in your country when considering chemical control. Pesticides should always be used in a lawful manner, consistent with the product's label.
The efforts to develop controls for this pest in southern USA were reported as early as the 1930s (Travis, 1938, 1939), suggesting that this species of fire ant was considered pestiferous even before the arrival of the imported species. However, relative to the control programmes developed for the red imported fire ant, Solenopsis invicta, fewer management programmes have been specifically developed for S. geminata. Certainly, because these are both fire ants (closely related and similar in biology) the control programmes developed for S. invicta should also be useful for control of S. geminata. In areas of the world where S. geminata has been imported, their populations may be greater and control justified (George and Narendran, 1987; Porter et al., 1997). In India, management options are presented by Veeresh (1990b).
The inspection of articles of trade that can potentially harbour this species (e.g. nursery stock, sod, hay, field-working equipment or articles of trade associated with soil or other suitable nesting media) should be routine and can prevent the introduction and spread of this species.
Cultural Control and Sanitary Methods
Ota and Chang (1979, 1981) and Heinz and Carlson (1984) developed drip irrigation in Hawaiian sugarcane fields and assessed it as resistant to damage by foraging S. geminata.
None has been reported.
Although numerous organisms have been identified as natural enemies of S. geminata, few of these have been used as a method of control.
Neem extract (azadiractin) has recently been assessed as a treatment for S. geminata (Geetha Viswanathan et al., 2002).
Field Monitoring/Economic Threshold Levels
No economic threshold levels have been developed for S. geminata.
As a species of 'fire ant', pest management programmes developed for S. invicta can be applied to this species where it occurs and causes problems that justify suppression.
ReferencesTop of page
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