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Bioparasite Envisioned To Control Terror Of Fire Ants

The red colored fire ants, which arrived in the United States in the early 1930s, are now akin to a plague in areas of the country like Virginia and California. They are sighted in places like ranches, open pastures, croplands as well as urban lawns. Known scientifically as Solenopsis invicta , humans and livestock fear them for their stinging bites.

The massive fire ant colonies destroy crops, damage farm and electrical equipment and hasten soil erosion. Fire ants have been detected in 13 states and covering an area of 320 million acres. With no natural predators to keep them in check, fire ants have spread across the U.S., where their numbers are now 10 times greater than in their native South America.

Yet researchers of the US Department of Agriculture say that they have finally discovered the nemesis of fire ants- a virus found in some fire ant fields and which can break down their colonies in about 3 months.

Bob Vander Meer, the leader of the USDA research team is naturally excited about the discovery. He was quoted: Certainly, we are excited about it. I think the virus has great potential. No question about it."

Yet the researchers agree that eradication is out of the question. What they are aiming for and what is eco- friendly, is pest management and not pest elimination. "Sustained control is what we're trying to achieve," says Steve Valles, an entomologist in the Gainesville research lab. "Eradication is not going to happen."

In the laboratory, the virus, SINV-1, has proven to be self-sustaining and transmissible. Once introduced, it is documented to eliminate a colony within three months. This makes the researchers believe the virus has potential as a viable biopesticide. The virus, which occurs naturally in fire ants, nevertheless needs a stressor before it becomes deadly and starts replicating within a colony.

The researchers believe that integrating the virus into
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