A deadly fly parasite reported for the first time recently in honey bees in California and South Dakota has Texas AgriLife Extension Service entomologists concerned.
The discovery might hamper biological control efforts on the red imported fire ant through a case of mistaken identity or even “guilt by association,” according to Dr. Paul Nester, Texas AgriLife Extension Service entomology program specialist in Houston.
Nester is part of a team of scientists at Texas A&M University, the University of Texas, the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Gainesville, Fla., and land grant university entomologists in other states that since 2000 has been working to control red imported fire ants using several species of phorid flies that specifically target that pest.
“There are over 3,000 species of described species of phorid flies found around the world and perhaps as many as 50,000 phorid species that haven’t even been catalogued yet so it wouldn’t be surprising if the species reportedly now killing honeybees becomes confused by the public with the species we are using to control fire ants,” Nester said.
“The main phorid fly species, including Pseudacteon tricuspis and P. curvatis, that parasitize the fire ant are not the same species or even in the same genus as that reportedly parasitizing the bees, though their life cycle appears similar.”
An online report at Physorg.com, a science, research and technology news website, notes that Apocephalus borealis, a phorid fly native to North America, that is known to parasitize bumblebees and paper wasps, also attacks the non-native honeybee causing them to abandon their hives at night.
“Hone ybees are in serious decline for no specific reason that has yet been found.” Nester said. “Anything that hurts the honeybee also has the potential for damaging our food supply since these wonderful insects are our main crop pollinators.
“It’s easy to see how one could jump to conclusions when the common name of ‘phorid fly’ comes up even though the two parasitic insect species in question are not closely related.”
Nester said Texas A&M University’s fire ant work utilizes Pseudacteon phorid flies from South America.
“Field and lab experiences over the past 15 years have demonstrated these phorid fly species to be highly specific to red imported fire ants and not honey bees or other beneficial insects.”
For more information on phorid fly research on red imported fire ants, go to: http://www.extension.org/pages/30546/natural-enemies-of-fire-ants.