I got a question from another entomologist this week: Do fire ants tend aphids?
At first this seemed straightforward enough. Sure they do. It’s mentioned in the literature (see below). Although I couldn’t recall ever seeing our local Solenopsis xyloni tending aphids, we don’t get all that many aphids here.
Delving a bit deeper, I decided to see if I could find an image of fire ants tending aphids. Our local Arizona Cooperative Extension did me proud, in their article A Fire Ant Smorgasboard.
Except, of course, I’m pretty sure those aren’t fire ants. Aren’t they acrobat ants (Crematogaster)?
Well, at least they aren’t the only ones to mistake another ant for fire ants. Over at 6Legs2Many she has a whole post full of “Things that are not fire ants.” Too fun.
On a more serious note, I suspect because fire ants have underground foraging tunnels, they may “tend” to specialize on root-feeding homoptera.
Thomas Rossiter Barnum (2008) Recruitment to and defense of aphids by fire ants and native ants and an estimate of their trophis positions using stable isotopes. M.S. Thesis, Auburn University.
Ian Kaplan and Micky D. Eubanks. (2005). Aphids alter the community-wide impact of fire ants. Ecology, 86(6): 1640–1649