Lesson #2 from an ant – homewrecking
YOU DESERVE A VERY SPECIAL FACT: If this isn’t the most bizarrely intriguing fact you read all week, then I have failed. Or you suck. Either way, there’s no denying this fact kicks ass.
Even bonuser: Very few people know this fact (as to why in tarnation I unfortunately know it, read here). I reckon you probably won’t find it nowhere on the World Wide Interweb, except maybe perhaps in some esoteric, nerdlinger entomology journal; that is, until right here and right now.
So, take special heed of the words to come—you’re getting in on the ground floor here. With that stated, peruse onward.
BACKSTORY TO THE FACT: How many of you know what a fire ant is? Most of you, I’m sure, especially if you ever lived in the southeastern US (I grew up there).
Fire ants—more specifically, solenopsis invicta (commonly known as the “red imported fire ant,” or RIFA, but for brevity’s sake I shall call them simply “fire ants”)—are frickin’ vicious pests, aggressive, unpredictable and highly adaptable. Frequently, for no apparent reason, a colony will relocate their signature mounded habitats by 5 to 10 feet. If disturbed, they exhibit uncanny self-preservative, seemingly rational behavior by moving their colonies to hard-to-reach areas, such as next to a tree trunk or fence where lawnmowers can’t attack them.
But it’s not their fault. Like most insect pests (both agricultural and ecological), the fault is entirely human. Why? Because fire ants were never meant to live in the southeastern US. They were meant to live in South America.
Fire ants’ initial infestation of North American soil was merely happenstance—they arrived here, again like most foreign species, as stowaways on cargo ships. When these ships dumped their ballast (soil, gravel, sand, et cetera, placed low in a vessel to improve its stability) near a port entry, shazzam! Fire ants were introduced to America.
For the record, fire ants first immigrated via the ports of Mobile, Alabama back in 1929 (at least, that’s when it was first reported).
Unfortunately, their natural enemies, parasites and indigenous swampy terrain (that is, natural factors which keep populations in check) chose not to accompany them on their illegal immigration way back then; so, fire ants, opportunistic as they were, ran (and continue to run) rampant in the American South.
In fact, every year fire ants expand their territory in America by 30-50 miles, and they’re aggressive as hell wherever they spread. Recently they’ve been spotted as far north as Maryland, and as far west as California. Some religious idiots might call that Manifest Destiny 2.0, but I wouldn’t. I’d call it critical human error 1,477,893, give or take a billion. But I digress.
Now that you know fire ants’ background, let’s get to the juicy stuff.
AND NOW, THE FACT: When fire ants invade an ecosystem, they significantly affect the behavior of native insects, rodents, and other ground-foraging animals that share their territory and diet. The example we’re keenest on here involves the eastern bluebird.
For the duration of a mating season, bluebirds are monogamous. To ensure their mates and territories, males will often show aggression towards other males, and females will do the same. It’s perfectly natural.
But in the unnatural environments where both bluebirds and fire ants dwell, both species compete for the same ground-foraging insect food source—inasmuch as the male bluebird alone cannot provide ample food for his fam. So, the female bluebird is forced to leave the nest and help find food. This does not please the male, and this is where the shit gets real.
As a result of the female spending inordinate amounts of time away from the nest to help forage, male bluebirds become insanely jealous and possessive of their mates. Convinced that their females are off whoring around with another male (which they’re not), a term called “extra pair mating,” angry males will exhibit aggressive behavior towards their female mates.
This behavior is unprecedented. To be certain, it is only in ecosystems where fire ants and bluebirds coinhabit that this male-female aggression is witnessed.
In other words, fire ants are indirectly responsible for the only known instances of domestic violence among bluebirds.
How cool is that?