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Walter Tschinkel's passion for fire ants has been stoked by over thirty years of exploring the rhythm and drama of Solenopsis invicta's biology. Since South American fire ants arrived in Mobile, Alabama, in the 1940s, they have spread to become one of the most reviled pests in the Sunbelt. In The Fire Ants Tschinkel provides not just an encyclopedic overview of S. invicta – how they found colonies, construct and defend their nests, forage and distribute food, struggle among themselves for primacy, and even relocate entire colonies – but a lively account of how research is done, how science establishes facts, and the pleasures and problems of a scientific career.
Between chapters detailed enough for experts but readily accessible to any educated reader, "interludes" provide vivid verbal images of the world of fire ants and the people who study them. Early chapters describe the several failed, and heavily politically influenced, eradication campaigns, and later ones the remarkable spread of S. invicta's "polygyne" form, in which nests harbor multiple queens and colonies reproduce by "budding." The reader learns much about ants, the practice of science, and humans' role in the fire ant's North American success.
Foreword [Edward O. Wilson]
I. Origin and Spread, Present and Future Range
Prelude: And What Do You Do for a Living?
1. A Quick Tour of Fire Ant Biology
2. The Species of Fire Ants and Their Biogeography
3. An Atlas of Fire Ant Anatomy
4. Getting There
Interlude: Beachhead Mobile
5. La Conquista: Spreading Out
Interlude: Another Immigrant Moves West
6. Predicting Future Range Limits
II. Basic Needs and the Monogyne Colony Cycle
An Important Note: Monogyne and Polygyne Social Forms
Interlude: There’s Nothing Like Getting Plastered
Interlude: Mundane Methods
10. Mating and Colony Founding
Interlude: Spring among the Fire Ants
11. The Claustral Period
Interlude: Sharon’s House of Beauty
12. The Incipient Phase and Brood Raiding
13. Dependent Colony Founding
14. Colony Growth
15. Relative Growth and Sociogenesis
Interlude: The Porter Wedge Micrometer
16. Colony Reproduction and the Seasonal Cycle
III. Family Life
Interlude: Deby Discovers Ants
17. Nestmate and Brood Recognition
Interlude: Ant ID Systems
18. Division of Labor
Interlude: Moving Up in a Harvester Ant Colony
19. Adaptive Demography
Interlude: Driving to Work with Odontomachus
20. The Organization of Foraging
Interlude: Who’s in Charge Here?
21. Food Sharing within the Colony
Interlude: The Fire Ant on Trial
22. Venom and Its Uses
Interlude: You Call That Pain!?
23. Social Control of the Queen’s Egg-laying Rate
Interlude: Catching Queens
24. Necrophoric Behavior
25. Discovery of Polygyny
Interlude: I Want This to Be Accurate
26. The Suppression of Independent Colony Founding in Polygyne Colonies
27. The Nature and Fate of Polygyne Alates
Interlude: A Useful Tool
28. Polygyne Mating, Adoption, Execution
29. Biological Consequences of Polygyny
V. Populations and Ecology
30. Hybridization between Solenopsis invicta and S. richteri
31. Populations of Monogyne Fire Ants
Interlude: Gang Wars
32. Territorial Behavior and Monogyne Population Regulation
33. Ecological Niche
34. Solenopsis invicta and Ant Community Ecology
Interlude: Membership in a Prestigious Organization
35. Solenopsis invicta and Other Communities
36. Fire Ants and Vertebrates
Interlude: A Microsafari in Antland
37. Biological Control
Interlude: The Heartbreak of Parasitoids
Some Final Words
[Color plates follow page 280]
Walter R. Tschinkel is a Distinguished Research Professor of Biological Science at Florida State University.
"I have been reading bits and pieces of the book, dipping in here and there like a chimpanzee with a twig, fishing for ants, and each time I have come up with something tasty and nutritious [...] My favorite ["Interlude"], an economical two-page essay called "The Porter Wedge Micrometer: Mental Health for Myrmecologists," ought to be required reading for any scientist who wants to write for the public [...] This brief essay is entertaining and significant, a real glimpse of what science is and how it is done by human beings, rational and un-, grappling with technique, nature and the gathering of information. This is what the public needs to know about science, not just the results presented in the driest form possible."
– James Gorman, New York Times, 2006-04-25
"This book is a masterly and detailed account of some of nature's greatest opportunists, the fire ants. It deals with their phylogeny, biogeography, social organization, parasites, and foraging behavior, together with their impacts on natural ecosystems and agriculture. Walter Tschinkel's holistic approach embraces topics at the molecular level and relates them to the colony and its organization. Tschinkel has researched these ants for thirty-five years at Florida State University, Tallahassee. He and several generations of his postgraduate students have been one of the major driving forces in fire-ant studies. This body of work required the mastery of finely tuned laboratory techniques in analytical chemistry, a detailed understanding of the natural history of the ants, extended periods of uncomfortable fieldwork and getting badly stung [...] Tschinkel's love of and fascination with the ants shines through the often highly technical aspects of The Fire Ants. He writes with great clarity and his book should appeal to the general reader, as much as the specialist. It is well illustrated with graphs, tables, and excellent photographs."
– Christopher O'Toole, Times Literary Supplement
"This book is without parallel as a thorough description of the biology of an important social insect. There are books on particular problems of social insect biology, and of course the landmark volume by Hölldobler and Wilson treats all ant biology. The Fire Ants stands out for its focus on a single species, covering the entire range of an enormous literature. It will therefore be of interest to specialists and to a more general audience who wish to learn about what is important in the ant world."
– Joan Herbers, Dean of Biological Sciences, Department of Evolution, Ecology and Organismal Biology, The Ohio State University
"This is a wonderful book, comprehensive in its coverage of fire ant social biology, extraordinarily lucid in its description of complex topics, and beautifully synthetic in tying together the many disparate threads of evidence relevant to the discussion of each topic. The prose is concise and compact, but the wit and humor of the author penetrate even the most tedious technical parts to lighten up the text and make it a pleasure to read. The book is laced with insightful and humorous interludes that detail the tools and personalities involved in fire ant research, and covers the major topics likely to be of interest to evolutionary biologists and ecologists who study social animals, especially social insects. The Fire Ants is certain to be widely read."
– Kenneth Ross, Professor of Entomology, University of Georgia