From a molecular biology viewpoint, the most attractive model ant species is the red imported fire ant, Solenopsis invicta. Although queens live only 2 to 5 years, they have the advantage of existing in polygynous and monogynous colonies. This ant has the most extensively developed genomic tools available with a large cDNA EST database and a microarray chip nearing completion (J. Wang and L. Keller, pers. comm.) A BAC library is also available for purchase (see website list). Primary tissue culture and gene expression studies have been successfully employed using S. invicta (Chen, 2004). In addition, the first gene directly affecting social structure (i.e., queen number) was discovered and cloned from S. invicta (Krieger and Ross, 2002).
Solenopsis invicta are common where introduced and easily cultured in the laboratory. Their transient, shallow nests make it easy, if not sometimes painful, to collect mature colonies with queens. An entire nest can be shoveled into a Fluon® -coated bucket and water added slowly. Solenopsis invicta form living rafts in response to flooding, and the floating colony raft can be scooped from the water and placed into plastic boxes treated with Fluon® (Figure 24.4).
Newly mated queens can also be collected after mating flights in the early summer and colonies started in water tubes as for L. niger and Pogonomyrmex . Their optimal laboratory temperature is 25 to 30°C. Their dietary requirements are more demanding, requiring freshly killed insects and a constant source of water. Specific method descriptions and food recipes can be found online (see Internet section of the appendices).
There are two problems that must be considered when working with S. invicta. First, it is impossible to avoid being stung on a regular basis when working with these small, aggressive ants. Some people develop sensitivity to the stings and can experience life-threatening anaphy-lactic shock (Solley et al., 2002). Second, this is a highly destructive and invasive species that should never be transported to, or kept in, warm moist regions of the world where they have not already been established.
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