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                       WHITE FOOTED ANT

Introduction

The white-footed ant, Technomyrmex albipes (Fr. Smith) has been making news in Florida over the last few years as a pest ant of major importance. Pest control companies, the media and homeowners continually consult universities and government agencies for information on how to control this nuisance ant. This report provides recent information (August 2002) on the distribution and habits of the white-footed ant (WFA) in Florida and the research being conducted on improved control practices.

Distribution

WFA was first collected in Florida at a nursery in Homestead in 1986. Mark Deyrup (Deyrup 1991) collected, and later identified WFA in Miami. As of July 2002, WFA have been collected in Brevard, Broward, Collier, Dade, Hendry, Lee, Martin, Monroe, Orange, Palm Beach, Polk, St. Lucie, Sarasota, and Seminole Counties, and more recently in Hillsborough and Pinellas Counties (Scheffrahn, unpublished data). By 2004, suspected infestations in Indian River and Charlotte counties were confirmed. In addition, infestations were confirmed in Alachua (April), Lake (March), Pasco and Volusia (April) counties


Pest Status

The WFA does not bite or sting, nor has it been reported to cause any structural damage. Colony population estimates vary from 8,000 to 3 million individuals (Tsuji and Yamauchi 1994). WFAs are considered by homeowners to be a nuisance pest because they are frequently observed foraging in kitchens, bathrooms, and the exterior of buildings. hite-footed ants, Technomyrmex albipes (Fr. Smith), feeding on soda droplet.

 

WFA feed on plant nectars and honeydew, which is a sweet substance produced by many sap-sucking insects such as aphids, mealybugs, and scales. WFA are known to protect honeydew producers, which has caused problems in agricultural production in some areas of the world. In Sri Lanka WFA are known to play a major role in spreading the pineapple wilt disease due to their tending of the pink mealybug, Dysmicoccus brevis (Cockerell) (Sulaiman 1997). On the other hand, Way & Cammel (1989) report WFAs help control a pest of coconut in Sri Lanka, the coconut caterpillar, Opisina arenosaella Walker, by feeding on the caterpillars' eggs. In South African citrus orchards, WFA caused localized outbreaks of red scale Aonidiella aurantii (Maskell) (Samways et al. 1982). Charles (1993), reports WFA tending mealybugs Pseudococcus longispinus (T.-T) in citrus and persimmon orchards


Description

The WFA is a medium small (2.5-3 mm long), black to brownish-black ant with yellowish-white tarsi (feet) and a one-segmented waist. A member of the subfamily Dolichoderinae, WFA have five abdominal segments, 12-segmented antennae, few erect hairs, and no sting. 

 

The WFA looks similar to the Argentine ant, Linepithema humile (Mayr). However, the petiole of the Argentine ant has a vertical projection that is lacking on the WFA. In south Florida, WFAs are frequently confused with Paratrechina bourbonica (Forel), one of the "crazy ants." Paratrechina bourbonica is slightly larger than the WFA, is faster-moving, has more hair, and emits a slight fruity odor when crushed.

Life Cycle

Perhaps the key to the WFA's evolutionary success is its ability to reproduce in large numbers, especially considering that it doesn't have the obvious defensive capabilities of many other ants such as a venomous sting, chemical sprays, or soldiers with strong, biting mandibles. Nearly half of the entire WFA colony is composed of fertile, reproductive females called intercastes that are usually inseminated by wingless males (Yamauchi et al. 1991). Although dealate queens are rare, winged males, which are short-lived, and winged females are released from the colony yearly, usually between July and August in South Florida. These forms copulate during a nuptial flight and found new colonies. Brood (eggs, larvae, and pupae) begin to develop under the care of the founding queen and the nest population increases. Foragers bring back food resources that they share with nestmates through the production of non-viable trophic eggs. The dealate queen is eventually replaced by the intercastes, which can form further new colonies by a process called budding in which the intercastes leave the old colony with other nestmates and brood to establish a new nest site.


Foraging and Feeding

Although WFAs are strongly attracted to sweet foods they will also feed on dead insects and other protein. WFAs are commonly found foraging along branches and trunks of trees and shrubs that have nectars and/or sap-sucking insects that produce honeydew. WFAs send many foragers from their nests to search for new food resources. Nestmates are recruited to resources by foragers who lay trail pheromones. Often the same trails are observed between a nest and resource for months at a time. In and on structures, foragers tend to follow lines, such as an edge of an exterior wall panel, which eventually leads to some small opening to the interior, where foragers that enter become more noticeable to occupants. Frequently, WFA find their way inside wall voids where they follow electrical cables and emerge into various rooms, especially kitchens and bathrooms, where liquid and solid foods can be encountered resulting in heavy trailing activity.

 

Nest Sites

The WFA nests at or above ground level in numerous locations within the landscape and home. Nests are frequently found in trees and bushes, tree holes, under palm fronds and old leaf boots, under leaves on trees, in loose mulch, under debris, in leaf-litter (both on the ground as well as in rain gutters), wall voids, and attics. Nests tend to be found outside of structures more than inside. Preferred nest sites provide proximity to moisture and food sources, and protection from predators and environmental extremes. Numerous nests can be said to constitute a colony, but since all neighboring colonies seems to be interconnected, there is probably no way to delineate the limits of a single colony.


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