Fire ants invade and evolve
In the late 1930s, a small but threatening invader arrived in the United States: the Argentine fire ant (Solenopsis invicta). Having hitched a ride from its homeland, S. invicta set up outposts in Alabama nests inhabited by thousands (and sometimes hundreds of thousands) of tiny red workers (all female males just hang around for reproductive purposes) and single queens. Over the next 20 years, S. invicta spread throughout the South, inflicting painful stings, building large nests, and generally annoying human populations.
What is it about S. invicta that's made their U.S. invasion so successful? As it turns out, the answer is an evolutionary one.
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Photos of workers with queen and pasture with fire ant nests courtesy of USDA APHIS PPQ Imported Fire Ant Station Archives, www.forestryimages.org.
Understanding Evolution © 2015 by The University of California Museum of Paleontology, Berkeley, and the Regents of the University of California