How often have we said that to our children, a gnat or mosquito? Well, sometimes fish appear to feel the same way.If you have ever walked around barefooted in the southeast then you know about some of the unpleasant aspects of fire ants. Most of us think that fire ants have a nasty little bite and it leaves a painful small blister for a few days. It turns out that it is not their bite, which they only use to hold on with, but their sting that causes the problem.Fire ants don’t produce formic acid like most other ants. They inject alkaloid venom from a gland at the base of their tail with a stinger. Additionally, a chemical is released when they sting that signals other ants to attack.When they’re in the winged phase of their life cycle millions of them will swarm and fly around looking for a place to start new colonies.In still coastal backwater streams and bayous of Alabama a seldom seen and little thought about event takes place at the end of winter or the beginning of spring.As fate would have it, many fire ants in their winged phase land on the water. The spotted sea trout, croaker and other fish see this event as their own personal all-you-can-eat special.These fish will eat fire ants until they cannot hold any more. The toxin contained in the fire ants will end up killing some of the fish. Most of the fish feeding on fire ants will only become sick and recover without permanent injury. Fire ant related fish kills aren’t a serious problem along the Gulf Coast.Other than fire ants’ direct effect on fish a noisy insect called the cicada has one that is not so obvious. The cicada lives by sucking the juice from plants. Some of its close relatives are the leaf and treehoppers.Most cicada live two to eight years with adults present every year. These are called annual cicadas. The ones we hear about the most are the periodic cicadas. These populations of cicadas appear at the same time every 13 or 17 years.When many millions of these cicadas make their appearance at the same time the noise they make can keep people awake at night. One thing they do we don’t see is that they help to indirectly increase the fish population.With so many insects appearing for such a short period of time when they die their decaying bodies provide fertilizer. Rainfall washes it into streams that flow into the estuaries and bayous.Studies have shown that some fish populations can increase by as much as ten percent because of the nutrients provided by the cicadas.
So, the next time you think that the insect that just bit you is nothing more than a pest, remember that in their dying they add to the life of our planet.Think Global – Act Local!