Agricultural Research Service scientists recently discovered the first known virus to infect the destructive and costly red imported fire ant (RIFA). Steven M. Valles, an entomologist with the ARS Center for Medical, Agricultural and Veterinary Entomology (CMAVE) in Gainesville, Fla., and colleagues at CMAVE and the ARS Horticulture and Breeding Research Laboratory in Fort Pierce, Fla., have identified a new natural enemy of RIFA. ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.

The newly found natural agent is a virus in the Dicistroviridae family, which is related to the well-known picorna-like viruses. The entire genome has been sequenced, and studies suggest the virus, tentatively named Solenopsis invicta virus-1 (SINV-1), may be a biological control agent for fire ants. Scientists use natural organisms as part of a strategy to reduce fire ant numbers without using pesticides.

Brood in infected colonies died within three months during laboratory studies, but the effect of the virus on field populations is still being evaluated, according to Valles, who is in CMAVE's Imported Fire Ant and Household Insects Research Unit.

ARS researchers are currently examining SINV-1 to determine its effectiveness and potential for use as a sustainable, microbial control agent against the red imported fire ant.

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