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Short Notes on Nature Singapore

11 December 2016 | Fire Ant | Solenopsis geminata |

While browsing through new articles earlier this week, an article on Red Fire Ant (Solenopsis invicta) from Australia caught my attention. Based on the article, this ant originated from South America could trigger up to 3,000 anaphylactic reactions in Australia each year. In the United States, more than 80 deaths have been attributed to the species.

Reports on fire ant invasion was not new; what really interest me in this article was the price tag associated to the eradication of this ant in Australia. It quoted a budget of A$380 million in the next 10 years to get rid of the ants. Apparently, A$328 million on this same effort had already been spent by the Australian since 2001 when the ant was first reported. I was amazed by these staggering figures quoted just to deal with one species of ant. Interestingly, there was a website by Dr Pam Swepson that offered some insights into this issue historically and the fiasco surrounding the fire ant eradication program.

The more in-depth research on this ant led me to the Wiki website which stated that “Red imported fire ants have been reported in India, Malaysia, the Philippines and Singapore”. The Singapore claim was based on a published report in 2013 from the Sociobiology journal. However, when I read this 2013 publication, the actual text stated that “Published reports of S. invicta from Malaysia and Singapore were based on misidentifications, presumably of the more widespread Neotropical fire ant, Solenopsis geminata (Fabricius)”. Obviously, the Wiki website had interpreted the information from the publication incorrectly.

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With the discovery of this publication, I was quite confident that the red ant species which I came across in 2014 was Solenopsis geminate. If my memory served me well, this red ant was a common sight in villages back in the 1970s when I was a kid. Its population dwindled rather quickly over the years and I thought it had extinct.

According to the Antwiki website, Solenopsis overbecki was collected in Singapore back in 1916. The book “Singapore Biodiversity” published in 2011 (page 227) had this description on the status of Solenopsis overbecki: “The fire ants (Solenopsis overbecki, up to 4.2 mm) are capable of inflicting a painful burning sting, and hence their common name. They can be found in the primary and secondary forests of Singapore, living among leaf litter and on tree trunks and branches. Male are yellowish-brown whereas female are light maroon with brownish-yellow extremities.” Another book that mentioned Solenopsis overbecki was “Private Lives: An Expose of Singapore's Rainforest” (page 157) published in 2012. It even had a photo of the ants. However, a correction issued by the publisher later clarified that the fire ants shown were Leptogenys species and not Solenopsis overbecki. Based on my limited observations while roaming around forested areas in Singapore, I had so far not seen any ants that resemble a fire ant. There might be a possibility that the more common and abundant Cocoa Black Ant (Dolichoderus thoracicus) in disturbed forest being mistaken as fire ant.

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