Roles and interaction of blow flies (Diptera: Calliphoridae) and introduced fire ants (Hymenoptera: Formicidae: Solenopsis invicta and S. invicta x richteri) in carrion decomposition in the southeastern United States
Mississippi State University
Harris, Jeffrey W.
Baker, Gerald T.
Date of Degree
Dissertation - Open Access
Doctor of Philosophy
College of Agriculture and Life Sciences
Department of Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, Entomology and Plant Pathology
Invasive fire ants (Solenopsis invicta and its hybrid with S. richteri) have been reported from carrion in the southeastern United States and are considered a part of the succession community. Alteration of ecological processes by fire ants could affect forensic interpretation of entomological data; therefore, I conducted studies to investigate the relative roles and interactions of fire ants and blow flies in carrion decomposition. The blow fly species composition in Mississippi has not been studied since 16 species were reported in 1983. Specimens from the Mississippi Entomological Museum were used to update the checklist of the blow flies of Mississippi and produce a photographic key to adults and third instar larvae. A total of 23 species of blow flies are now known or expected to occur in the state. I conducted an experiment whereby portions of the succession fauna were excluded from access to carrion to study the relative effects of fire ants and blow flies on carrion decomposition and their interactions with each other. Fire ants made lesions in and partially buried carcasses, but their exclusion did not affect carrion decomposition rates; slightly affected the succession community; and strongly affected succession of blow flies, specifically. Lastly, I collected fire ants from mounds at set distances from carrion and analyzed their guts for pig and blow fly DNA. The probability of detecting pig or blow fly DNA in ants collected directly from carrion increased with each succeeding day, and the probability of detecting either pig or blow fly DNA in ant guts decreased with increasing distance between carrion and the mound. Probability of detecting pig or blow fly DNA in ant guts from ants collected directly from the carcasses was 42% and 33%, respectively. This study documented that fire ants scavenge on carrion, prey on other members of the succession fauna, and transfer acquired nutrients at least 3 m into the landscape. Thus, fire ants represent a barrier to normal faunal succession patterns on carrion and these delays should be considered by forensic entomologists for postmortem interval estimation.
De Jong, Grant, "Roles and interaction of blow flies (Diptera: Calliphoridae) and introduced fire ants (Hymenoptera: Formicidae: Solenopsis invicta and S. invicta x richteri) in carrion decomposition in the southeastern United States" (2020). Theses and Dissertations. 3839.