In crazy vs. fire, the ant with the detox dance wins | Science News

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In crazy vs. fire, the ant with the detox dance wins

Defense technique helps recent invader stomp out fire ants

By
3:29pm, February 13, 2014

CHEMICAL ANT FIGHT  The red imported fire ant (left) dabs droplets of potent venom from its rear onto enemies, but its opponent this time, a tawny crazy ant (right), detoxifies the venom with an acid rubdown. 

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Tawny crazy ants pick fights with fire ants and win, thanks to a previously unknown way of detoxifying fire ant venom.

When dabbed with venom from fire ants, crazy ants of the species Nylanderia fulva curl their hind ends up between their legs and secrete droplets of formic acid, says ecologist Edward LeBrun of the University of Texas at Austin. The ants then give themselves vigorous rubdowns, smearing the acid on their bodies, LeBrun and his colleagues report February 13 in Science. Most survive the attack.

This detox trick could help explain why these crazy ants can vanquish the red imported fire ants Solenopsis invicta, which have been spreading across the southern United States since they invaded more than 70 years ago. They wipe out native ants, disrupt ecosystems, move into people’s yards and sting anything within

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