Experimental and Applied Acarology

, Volume 79, Issue 1, pp 87–97 | Cite as

Red imported fire ant (Solenopsis invicta) aggression influences the behavior of three hard tick species

  • MacKenzie K. KjeldgaardEmail author
  • Oona M. Takano
  • Alison A. Bockoven
  • Pete D. Teel
  • Jessica E. Light
  • Sarah A. Hamer
  • Gabriel L. Hamer
  • Micky D. Eubanks


Few studies have documented the indirect effects of predators on tick behavior. We conducted behavioral assays in the laboratory to quantify the effects of a highly abundant predator, the red imported fire ant (Solenopsis invicta), on three species of ticks endemic to the southern USA: the lone star tick (Amblyomma americanum), the Gulf Coast tick (A. maculatum), and the Cayenne tick (A. mixtum). We documented ant aggression toward ticks (biting, carrying, and stinging) and determined the effects of ants on tick activity. Ticks were significantly less active in the presence of fire ants, and tick activity was negatively associated with ant aggression, but in many cases the effects of fire ants on ticks varied by tick species, stage, and engorgement status. For example, fire ants took half as long (~ 62 s) to become aggressive toward unfed A. americanum adults compared with unfed A. maculatum, and only ~ 8 s to become aggressive toward engorged A. maculatum nymphs. Correspondingly, the activity of unfed A. americanum adults and engorged A. maculatum nymphs was reduced by 67 and 93%, respectively, in the presence of fire ants. This reduction in tick activity translated to less questing by unfed ticks and less time spent walking by engorged nymphs. Our results suggest that fire ants may have important non-consumptive effects on ticks and demonstrate the importance of measuring the indirect effects of predators on tick behavior.


Predation Indirect effects Questing Ixodidae Ticks 



We thank Otto F. Strey, Tick Research Laboratory, who reared all of the ticks used in this experiment. We also thank Eric Bockoven for helping maintain fire ant colonies and collect data. This work was funded by a grant from the Management of Invasive Ants in Texas Program through Texas A&M AgriLife Research. This is publication 1611 of the Biodiversity Research and Teaching Collections at Texas A&M University.

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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of EntomologyTexas A&M UniversityCollege StationUSA
  2. 2.Department of Wildlife and Fisheries SciencesTexas A&M UniversityCollege StationUSA
  3. 3.Department of Veterinary Integrative BiosciencesTexas A&M UniversityCollege StationUSA
  4. 4.Department of Biology and Museum of Southwestern BiologyUniversity of New MexicoAlbuquerqueUSA

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